Business Travel Briefing
For December 9-23, 2021
The briefing in brief: The future of airport "lounges" may be developing in Denver. Delta won't give you SkyMiles for Basic Economy fares. United offers last-minute cuts in requirements for elite MileagePlus status. American Airlines will fly to Qatar, but cuts a slew of international routes. Vietnam Airlines launches nonstops between the United States and Saigon. Breeze, David Neeleman's new carrier, will add flights to Palm Beach and Islip, Long Island. Doug Parker kicks himself upstairs at American. Living for the weekend--if we know when it is. Tel Aviv is the world's most expensive city. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

United Airlines is planning a new club at its Denver hub and the watchword is tiny. If its presentation to the Denver City Council is correct, the lounge will be just shy of 1,600 square feet. There won't be much "lounge" in the lounge since the club, located between Gates B61 and B63, will have a limited amount of seating. Instead, the club will stress grab-and-go products such as snacks, beverages, salads, sandwiches and wraps. While the proposed space may be small, the concept is a big change in airport clubs. Traditionally, airport lounges have been places where flyers grabbed a chair or a workspace and waited while having a beverage or a snack. Clubs actively discouraged flyers who took items away. Even travel-size bottled water was hard to find since clubs didn't want travelers absconding with supplies. But thinking is changing as travel is evolving. "Airport real estate is expensive, especially at hubs," one airline planner told me. "And no one wants to be waiting around a club. So it may be wiser to open 'mini-delis' that allow travelers to take a snack or beverages and then head to the gate and their flight." Besides, she notes, "giving away cans of Coke or a bag of prezels is a lot cheaper than paying rent on a huge space no one wants to occupy." Stay tuned, folks, and watch the landscape change.

Delta Air Lines was the first carrier to launch stripped-down Basic Economy fares. When the sub-coach bucket was introduced in 2012, Delta specifically positioned it as a product to fight the incursion of Spirit Airlines in some markets. But it didn't take long for Delta to add Basic Economy systemwide--and all its competitors quickly matched. I give you that background so you can understand the potential impact of this move: Delta will no longer award SkyMiles on Basic Economy fares. The fares won't count toward elite Medallion status, either. The policy is effective immediately for tickets purchased for travel beginning January 1. Delta didn't announce this, of course, but sneaked the changes into its boilerplate Web patter. You might say that SkyMiles are basically worthless anyway, so no loss. But, still ...
        United MileagePlus has (very) belatedly reduced requirements for Premier elite status in 2022. It is essentially the same template used last year to qualify for 2021 status. Generally speaking, you'll need about 25% less spend and a third fewer flights than normal, whatever normal is these days. More details are here.

American Airlines continues get chummy Qatar Airways, its Oneworld Alliance and codeshare partner and minority stakeholder in many Oneworld carriers. On June 4, AA will fly from its shriveled New York/Kennedy hub to Doha, capital of Qatar. I don't know why anyone would fly American JFK-Doha when Qatar Air flies the route at least twice a day with markedly better hard and soft in-flight products. YMMV, of course. The Doha announcement this week partially offset news that American is severely pruning its international route network. It will drop Hong Kong flights and "significantly" reduce service to Shanghai, Beijing and Sydney. It is also (again) delaying the launch of a Seattle-Bangalore route, initially targeted to start in October, 2020. Also getting the chop: flights to Edinburgh; Shannon; Prague; and Dubrovnik. American blames a panoply of reasons for the route cuts, especially a delay in delivery of Boeing 787 aircraft. Of course, American doesn't mention it retired big chunks of its long-haul fleet during the pandemic, including Boeing 757s and 767s and Airbus A330s.
        Vietnam Airlines has launched the first commercial nonstop flights between the United States and Vietnam. It now operates two weekly flights between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) using both Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s.
        Finnair hasn't totally restored its pre-pandemic flight schedule to the United States, but it has found a new niche to serve. Effective May 1, it'll fly three weekly nonstops between Seattle and Helsinki. The service appears to be a summer-only operation.

Breeze Airways, the new carrier from JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, has been flying in secondary markets around the nation since its launch back in May. But its new routes nudge the carrier nearer to major markets. The cities? Palm Beach International (PBI) at the edge of the Miami megaplex and Islip, a third-tier airport at the east edge of the New York Metro market. PBI is currently well-served--JetBlue, American and Delta each control around 20% of the traffic--but Islip (aka McArthur Long Island or ISP) is just a blip, ranking 117th in the nation for passenger traffic. In February, Breeze says it'll fly four times a week from Islip to Norfolk, Virginia, and twice weekly to Charleston, South Carolina. From PBI, Breeze will fly to six cities, including New Orleans, Akron/Canton and Charleston.
        Portland International in Oregon has opened a consolidated car-rental facility. All 11 rental firms serving PDX have moved into the building and car-rental shuttle buses have been eliminated. More details are here.

Doug Parker, chief executive and chairman of American Airlines, is kicking himself upstairs. On March 31, he turns the CEO job over to Robert Isom, currently AA's president. Parker will remain as chairman, however. The 60-year-old Parker first ascended to the chief executive role in 2001 at America West. He then negotiated a merger with US Airways and, in 2013, engineered the reverse merger with American Airlines. Parker's 20 years in the big chair was marked by relentless cost-cutting, an unwillingness to operate in competitive markets and his insistence that his carriers fly from fortress hubs. (At one point, 98% of US Airways' flights touched one of its hubs.) He has also been great at wrenching bailout funds from taxpayers, cutting legroom in coach, eliminating premium-class perks and missing important trends like in-flight WiFi and power points. All this while American lags its competitors in most measures of operational and financial success. So the Cromwell, please.

Tel Aviv is now the world's most expensive city in which to live. According to The Economist, the strength of the shekel and rising prices moved Tel Aviv past traditional high-cost cities such as Singapore. The city-state fell to second place in the magazine's rating, tying with Paris, followed by Zurich, Hong Kong and New York. Rounding out the top ten of pricy places are Geneva, Copenhagen, Los Angeles and Osaka, Japan. On other side of the ledger, Rome fell to 48th place, a 16-place tumble from last year. Damascus, capital of war-torn Syria, is the world's cheapest major city.
        Air Canada has been fined $4.5 million by the U.S. Transportation Department for the carrier's pugnacious approach to passenger refunds in the early days of the pandemic. But the fine is much less than it seems: The DOT originally wanted to fine Air Canada $25 million. Even the $4.5 million is not what it seems since it is reduced by a $2.5 million credit for funds the carrier did return to flyers who had their trips cancelled by the airline.
        Airbahn, a prospective start-up carrier that intends to serve West Coast markets, has received its first aircraft, an Airbus A320. The carrier is also advertising jobs on its Web site and Facebook page.
        The accidental discharge of a weapon at Atlanta/Hartsfield just before Thanksgiving now has a suspect. A 42-year-old man, Kenny Wells Jr., who previously served jail time on weapons charges, turned himself in to authorities. He's being held without bail and is charged with a battery of offenses relating to the incident at a security checkpoint.

Anyone who travels in the Middle East and Africa knows that the weekend is a very different concept, usually observed on Thursday and Friday, the Muslim holy day. But leave it to the United Arab Emirates to change the game. Until 2006, the Emirates observed a standard Muslim weekend. Then it switched to a Friday-Saturday weekend. Now the UAE will adopt a more Westernized version of the weekend. Effective January 1, in fact, the Emirates moves to a 4 1/2-day "national working week." Employees will work until noon on Friday and mosques will begin the Friday prayers on or after 1:15pm. Then the rest of the weekend commences and runs through Sunday. Naturally, very little of this has anything to do with religion or more time off for employees. It's all about economics, to better align major cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the working rhythms in North America, Europe and most of Asia.