Business Travel Briefing
For January 13-27, 2022
The briefing in brief: U.S. airlines are contracting fast as travel slows. Omicron and travel rules force carriers to juggle international routes. Big doings at the top of the hotel market. A Latin capital gets a new airport. JetBlue fiddles with its weak TrueBlue program. Avelo joins TSA PreCheck. Is China trying to destroy Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier? And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Blame it on the typical slowdown in January travel. (The TSA says traffic one day this week fell to its lowest level since last April.) Or blame the reluctance to fly during the spread of the Omicron variant. Or cite a severe shortage of absurdly underpaid pilots who operate most regional jets. (That's what airlines are doing, of course.) No matter the cause, however, U.S carriers are dumping routes around the nation with breathtaking speed. You might want to get a scorecard for this one:
        Delta Air Lines said today (January 13) that it is cutting regional flying by as much as 25% through the first half of the year. It already announced that it would permanently drop flights to three cities: Cody, Wyoming; Grand Junction, Colorado; and Lincoln, Nebraska. Delta is also dumping flights from its Salt Lake City hub to Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
        JetBlue Airways is killing 17 routes, many launched during the depths of the pandemic, when carriers were searching for potentially profitable places to fly. Bozeman, Montana, for example, loses its runs to Los Angeles and JetBlue's Fort Lauderdale hub. JetBlue's rump operation from Newark loses five routes, all to the Caribbean and Latin America.
        United Airlines says its commuter carriers have grounded upwards of 100 aircraft, most of them 50-seat regional jets. At least a dozen airports will lose flights to United's Washington/Dulles hub. Also dumped: all service to Destin/Fort Walton, Florida; Newark to Northwest Arkansas; and the planned resumption of flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

With so many nations continuing to restrict or bar travel during the Omicron phase of the pandemic, airlines are trying to turn on a dime with schedules. Some international routes are disappearing, others are being delayed and some others are being pioneered. If you've got any room on the above-mentioned scorecard, consider:
        Avianca is trying to rebuild its network after a 2020 bankruptcy. The result: The Colombian airline is resuming service to Cartagena from both New York/Kennedy and Miami. It'll also launch a new route between Orlando and Medellin. All flights start in late March using Airbus A320 aircraft.
        American Airlines is delaying the launch of flights to Tel Aviv from its Dallas/Fort Worth hub. With Israel essentially closed to U.S. travelers, American says the new launch target is May 7, pushed from March 6. American also continues to delay the start of its Seattle-Bangalore, India, route. That oft-stalled route is dead until October 29.
        Finnair is delaying the launch of its new route between its Helsinki hub and Dallas/Fort Worth, home of Oneworld Alliance partner American Airlines. The route was due to launch next month. Now the earliest start date is March 27.
        Hawaiian Airlines is ending nonstop flights from Honolulu to Brisbane, Australia, a route it has operated for the last decade.
        LOT Polish Airlines will resume its nonstops between New York/Kennedy and Budapest. There'll be three weekly flights starting again on June 2. LOT operates the only year-round nonstops between the United States and Hungary.
        Singapore Airlines says it will resume its ultra-long-haul flights between Newark Airport and Singapore starting on March 27. This is interesting because SIA moved that run to New York/Kennedy during the pandemic and JFK service will continue when the Newark nonstop returns. The nonstops from both airports are about 18 hours in the air.
        Virgin Atlantic says it'll launch flights from its London/Heathrow hub to Austin, Texas. There'll be four weekly flights starting May 25 with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Virgin will compete with British Airways on the route.

Asia's richest man has picked up a "bargain" in New York City. Mukesh Ambani is dropping a cool $98 million for controlling interest in the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle. How's that a bargain? The 202-room property was valued at $340 million before the pandemic. Ambani is chief executive of Reliance Industries, an Indian multi-national company. Meanwhile, a complicated refinancing deal for the Hotel Danieli in Venice includes a much-needed $34 million renovation of the 204-room property. It also allegedly means Four Seasons will be the new management firm. The hotel was one of the flagships of the old CIGA chain that was sold to Sheraton decades ago and eventually migrated into the Marriott Luxury Collection. Marriott is pushing back against the Four Seasons claim, insisting that Four Seasons will run a newly built property in Venice that is part of the $375 million Danieli refinancing. Stay tuned.

The TSA says that start-up Avelo Air is now part of PreCheck, the security bypass program that allows you to keep your shoes on and your carry-on and laptop bags in one piece. That brings the PreCheck count to around 80 U.S. and international airlines at about 200 airports.
        Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, has a new airport. Palmerola International Airport (XPL) effectively replaces Toncontin, which is being repurposed for domestic flights and general aviation. Palmerola is operated by a subsidiary of Munich Airport.
        Bermuda/Wade Airport has two new lounges, one at each end of the departure concourses. The U.S.-specific lounge can accommodate about 60 travelers in 2,600 square feet. The international lounge is about 3,900 square feet and handles about 90 flyers. Both clubs are operated by Primeclass and accept Priority Pass for entry.

TrueBlue, the truly toothless frequent flyer program of JetBlue Airways, is getting an upgrade this year in preparation for a major restructuring next year. Mosaic, the ineffective elite status, now has a slightly elevated level called (wait for it) Mosaic+. The major news, however, is that you'll be able to use points to upgrade to extra-legroom seats and those points will be rebated to you. More details are here.
        Driving reimbursement rates for 2022 have been set at 58.5 cents per mile by the IRS. It is a 2.5-cent increase from the 2021 rate.
        The FAA issued a brief ground stop at some West Coast airports on Monday (January 10). The reason? A North Korean missile launch thousands of miles across the Pacific. Put it in your "out of an abundance of caution" file.

China's aggressive moves to bring Hong Kong under its thumb are easy to see. The years-long effort has silenced the free press, cowed the local government and all but ended anti-government demonstrations. But is China also trying to destroy Cathay Pacific, the independently owned flag carrier of Hong Kong? As the Financial Times notes, the China-friendly local press has been fomenting hatred of and financial penalties on the globally admired carrier. The excuse? Coronavirus, of course. Cathay has gingerly refuted the claims.