Business Travel Briefing
For Year-End, 2021
The briefing in brief: United snatches Virgin Australia partnership from Delta. Hilton (slightly) upgrades its daily food-and-beverage credits for elite members. Las Vegas gambles on a new technology to eliminate boarding passes at TSA checkpoints. British Airways resumes flights from New York to London/Gatwick and will launch dozens of Europe routes from LGW. Two new super-speed rail routes launch in Europe. Do you really want to live in an old jet fuselage? And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Virgin Australia killed flights to the United States at the start of the pandemic and went into the Australian equivalent of bankruptcy in April, 2020. That led Delta Air Lines to dump the carriers' decade-long partnership. Now a restructured and rebuilding Virgin Australia has turned to United Airlines and the two airlines this week signed a frequent flyer and code-share arrangement due to begin in the spring. Since it's doubtful Virgin Australia will ever resume transpacific flights--it sold off its long-haul craft during the bankruptcy--the deal will basically stitch together United's flights to Sydney and Melbourne with Virgin's network of intra-Australia runs. Meanwhile, Delta said this week it has spent $1.2 billion to shore up its partnership with three other international airlines: Virgin Atlantic, Aeromexico and South American giant LATAM. After their respective bankruptcies, Delta will have a 20% stake in Aeromexico and a 10% chunk of LATAM. About $250 million of the spending is going to help Delta maintain its 49% hold on Virgin Atlantic. That's almost as much as Delta spent in 2012 to gain its initial 49% share of the British carrier.

Surprising no one, Hilton Honors' switch from free continental breakfast for elite members to a dollar-specific food-and-beverage credit does seem permanent. The controversial change--some like the flexibility, some moan the loss of a guaranteed free meal--is being extended in 2022 with some changes. Effective February 1, Gold and Diamond Elite Honors members will receive $10 per registered guest per day at Hilton Garden Inn and $25 at Hilton's luxury brands. Elites at full-service hotels will now receive $15 per day per guest. In eight high-cost markets and the entire state of Hawaii, however, the full-service benefit is $18.
        Hyatt has opened its second hotel in The Circle, a mixed-use complex at Zurich Airport. The 300-room Hyatt Place joins a 255-room Hyatt Regency that opened in April. The Circle, with parks, shops and a convention center, is directly linked to Zurich Airport's terminals. It opened 13 months ago to almost no notice because of the pandemic.
        Honolulu hotel rooms will cost more now that the city has imposed a 3% hotel tax. It raises the total burden on accommodations in Hawaii's most-populous island to more than 13%.

Would you gamble on a newish technology at an airport known for hordes of unsophisticated leisure travelers in the middle of a pandemic just weeks before a huge global trade show returns to in-person attendance? Apparently, Las Vegas and the TSA would, hence the new technology now in place. Gone are the pre-checkpoint document stations where TSA officials check your identification and scribble unknown gibberish on your boarding pass. Now travelers head straight to the checkpoint, where the airport and the TSA have 58 new "credential authentication technology" (CAT) scanners. If all works according to plan, travelers present their passport, driver's license or other photo ID to a TSA agent who swipes it in a system tied to the TSA's Secure Flight database. If you are good to go, you then proceed to the everyday indignities of TSA screening. Your boarding pass? You will still need it to get on the plane, of course, so it's not like any steps are really being eliminated. It's just another way to annoy us. Want to learn more about the CAT System, which is partially in place in several dozen other airports? Surf here.
        Madrid won't be a super-hub after all for IAG, the parent company of Iberia and Vueling as well as British Airways and Aer Lingus. Just before the pandemic, IAG agreed to pony up a billion euros to buy Air Europa, the only big Madrid player besides Iberia and Vueling. The deal collapsed this week and IAG will pay Air Europa a 75-million-euro break-up fee.
        Washington/National is losing a raft of flights in the weeks ahead. Southwest Airlines is dropping flights to Jacksonville, Florida, and American Airlines is slashing key flights at DCA. Its daily schedule to Boston/Logan will be halved and more than a dozen other business destinations will lose at least one daily roundtrip.

British Airways says it will resume flights to London/Gatwick airport on May 28. Service to London's second-busiest airport has been suspended since the beginning of the pandemic. But not all service will return. New York/Kennedy will get a daily flight, but Las Vegas-Gatwick service seems to have been cancelled even though it was scheduled to resume March 29. It's not that Americans are hurting for flights into London, of course, but the Gatwick announcement came with news that BA was also relaunching intra-Europe service from LGW. Flights to about three dozen destinations, most not served nonstop from the United States, will begin starting in March. BA says the new Gatwick flights, shuttered since early last year, will resume via a new low-cost subsidiary.
        Icelandair says it will begin nonstops to Raleigh-Durham on May 12. The four weekly flights, operated with a Boeing 737 MAX, will have 16 Saga (premium economy) seats and 144 coach chairs.

Speedy doings on Europe's rails. State-owned Trenitalia on Saturday (December 18) launches its highest-speed train between Milan and Paris. The 6-hour route will stop along the way at both Torino and Lyon as well as knocking about an hour off the runtime of the existing French TGV service. The Frecciarossa trainsets are configured with four classes and replace the older, slower Italian Thello trains that ended this summer. Meanwhile, Spanish operator Renfe is launching its fastest trains between the capital of Madrid and the Galicia region in the northwest of the country. Service begins Tuesday (December 21) and will reduce travel between Madrid and the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela to three hours and 20 minutes.
        Carlson Travel and 37 related companies have filed for bankruptcy. The huge business travel agency says its North American business has fallen by nearly 80% from its 2019 high.
        Delta Air Lines Flight 342, a scheduled nonstop from Washington/National to Los Angeles, was diverted to Oklahoma City last Thursday (December 9). The reason? A 35-year-old passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant and injured an air marshal who intervened.

Five years ago, David and Emily Palmer, a British father-daughter team, turned part of the hull of an old commercial aircraft into an Aeropod, a Quonset hut-like structure that could be converted into a free-standing playroom, gym or office. But the company, DappR Aviation, never got traction and now it sells much smaller parts of aircraft refashioned into bowls, benches and chairs. But big ideas die hard and now an Irish firm called Aeropods has begun converting old Airbus A320s into free-standing rooms. The company has already sold units that have been turned into home offices, bike shelters, meeting rooms and garden rooms. But these bits of aviation fancy don't come cheap. A basic Aeropod--internal space about 110 square feet--costs $21,000. Delivery is extra--Did you think Amazon Prime would cover it?--and you'll also have to have a poured-concrete base. And you thought flying a plane was expensive ...