Business Travel Briefing
For Nov. 18- Dec. 2, 2021
The briefing in brief: American Airlines loves New York, but it does not want to fly there. Low-fare/high fee carriers add new transatlantic flights. El Al finally joins PreCheck. Pennsylvania bails on its fight against resort and destination fees. United finally begins reopening its Polaris lounges. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

American Airlines has long been obsessed with the New York Metro Market, especially after it shuttered its Manhattan headquarters in 1979 to relocate in Dallas/Fort Worth. It long dominated New York/LaGuardia and New York/Kennedy and was an eager, almost obsessive player at Westchester County (HPN) and Newburgh/Stewart, an airport it pioneered for commercial service in the 1990s. "We have never wanted New Yorkers to think we abandoned them after we went to Dallas," said Art Torno, who ran New York operations for American three decades after the HQ move. Current management feels differently, however. Despite a pep-talk meeting to the New York troops last week by chief revenue officer Vasu Raja, American continues to turn routes over to its partner JetBlue Airways or abandon them outright. I wrote last week about its withdrawal from the LGA-Boston leg of the Shuttle, but American's 2022 plan looks like a massive pullback. Starting in January, American will cut 18 routes to/from the New York market. Only about half of them will be covered by JetBlue. Among routes getting the AA ax: JFK to San Antonio; Montreal; Toronto; and San Jose, Costa Rica. From LGA, routes being dropped include Ashville, North Carolina; Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Bangor and Portland, Maine; and Orlando and Pensacola, Florida. A small silver lining: Rasu claims the JetBlue partnership is bringing sign-ups to AAdvantage and bookings on by New Yorkers for AA international flights.

Traffic between the United States and Europe remains comparatively low and mainstream carriers have been extremely careful in adding (or restoring) flights to the schedule. That opens the door for low fare/high fee alternate airlines to try to sneak in new service. Up in Canada, WestJet says it will launch nonstops between Calgary and London/Heathrow starting in the spring. The airline says the flights will be operated with the carrier's Boeing 787 Dreamliners, but gave no timeline for launch, details of pricing or service frequency. Meanwhile, French Bee is adding a Los Angeles-Paris/Orly run to its skeletal U.S. service. (See Meena Thiruvengadam's review of the carrier.) Flights begin in April. There'll be four weekly roundtrips to start and rise to six weekly in July. Fares on the A350-900 flights begin at $279 one-way in French Bee's bare-bones coach and $661 for the carrier's Premium service.
        El Al joined TSA Precheck, which should make flights to Tel Aviv less burdensome. Precheck services will be available on El Al flights from New York/JFK, Newark, Miami and Los Angeles.

It's been obscured by the ongoing pandemic, of course, but hotels and resorts are back with incredibly pricey and egregiously misleading destination fees. Several states have made a big noise about the fees and have promised to help travelers fight them. But one state, Pennsylvania, is now throwing in the towel--although it naturally claims victory. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced this week that the state and Marriott had come to an agreement. Marriott promises to play nice and disclose the mandatory add-on fees prominently and Pennsylvania agrees to run and hide in the corner. The agreement about Marriott's support of "upfront and transparent ... disclosure" of the resort/destination charges is here. And, yes, it is as toothless as it reads and sounds.
        Trump Hotels is giving up on its cash-bleed of a Washington property. It has agreed to sell the lease on the Old Post Office Building near the White House for about $375 million, far less than the $500 million it once expected. Trump won the bidding in 2012 to remake the property into a hotel and pledged to spend $200 million to convert it into a 263-room luxury lodging. Despite Trump's frequent boasts to the contrary, government records show that the hotel has lost $71 million since it opened just before the 2016 elections. The new owners say they'll convert the property to a Waldorf Astoria, one of Hilton's luxury brands.

As traffic picks up, however sporadically and unevenly, access to airport clubs is again crucial. But the news is good and bad on that front. Good news: United Airlines this week finally reopened its Polaris international business class lounge in Terminal C of its Newark hub. That should take some pressure off the woefully overcrowded United Clubs in Terminal C, which were inadequate even in the best of times. United will reopen the Polaris Lounge at its Houston/Intercontinental hub in the next two weeks. The Chicago/O'Hare Polaris lounge should reopen before Christmas. But the Polaris facilities at LAX and San Francisco aren't likely to open until January. Meanwhile, American Airlines says one of its two wildly overcrowded Admirals Clubs at its Charlotte hub will close early in January. It's the Terminal C facility tabbed for required maintenance. That'll leave American with just the Admirals Club in Terminal B for an unspecified period. That's sure to be ugly for months. Lastly, Air Canada says that it has reopened its Maple Leaf Lounge in Terminal B of New York/LaGuardia. It is located on the Eastern Concourse.
        Atlanta/Hartsfield is moving its Uber/Lyft pickup area. Beginning on Monday (November 22), Uber and Lyft drivers can only meet you at the Rideshare Pickup Zone near the Terminal North Economy parking lot. That's about a five-minute walk from the terminal. Drop-offs are still permitted curbside at all terminals, however.
        Memphis opened a Coronavirus testing facility in Terminal B's ticketing lobby. It is operated by ZupMed, a local concierge clinic.

The ugly passenger incident of the week? A 32-year-old woman was arrested at Dallas/Love Field over the weekend. The reason? She assaulted a Southwest Airlines employee during the boarding process for a flight to New York. The woman was held in a Dallas jail on $10,000 bond and charged with aggravated assault. The injured Southwest agent was taken to the hospital for treatment, but has been released.
        U.S. airline hiring continues to proceed at a snail's pace. The Transportation Department says the nation's 24 scheduled airlines added 2,871 full-time employees in September, leaving them with a workforce that is 8.8% below levels in September, 2019.