Business Travel Briefing
For January 20-31, 2022
The briefing in brief: When the oligarchy that controls airlines fights the oligarchy that controls mobile phones, flyers end up dazed and confused. Hyatt will rebrand three InterContinental hotels in the London area. Nasty passenger beats the rap by claiming Ambien and booze made him lose control. IHG Rewards says it'll improve, but won't say how. Breeze says it'll fly its first Airbus A220s with first class cabins from Tampa. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Who do you hate more, your airline or your mobile company? And can you root for either when the massive oligarchies go to the mat and demand virtually captive federal regulators support their whims? That is probably all you need to know about the fight between airlines and the mobile companies over the latest deployment of 5G mobile spectrum. The FCC okayed the rollout months ago and the airlines and the FAA immediately began complaining that the 5G signals would interfere with aircraft operations at or near U.S. airports. There were weeks of low-level threats from each side, then a massive pressure campaign mounted by airlines ahead of this week's official launch. Some carriers started cancelling flights, claiming they were worried about the effect of the 5G signals on altimeters and other cockpit systems. And Boeing urged carriers not to use Boeing 777 aircraft at airports where 5G was activated. After some ostentatious public wrangling and threats, Verizon and AT&T delayed some 5G deployment near airports and, suddenly, airlines were sweetness and light. "As far as you'll ever see, everything's totally fine," outgoing American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker said today (January 20). "We don’t expect any material disruption whatsoever." Okay, then I suggest we ignore the whole sordid episode. But if you cannot resist, check out the FAA site for the technobabble. Now carry on ...

Among many travel side effects of the pandemic will be flag switches at hotels around the world. Case in point: Hyatt swiping three London-area properties from InterContinental Hotels. Two are straight conversions. The adjacent Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites in Stratford will become the Hyatt Regency and the Hyatt House respectively. Located in the Westfield Stratford City shopping and entertainment complex, the hotels will convert in the second quarter. The third change is near Blackfriars Station and St. Paul's Cathedral. The Crowne Plaza is currently closed for renovation, but the property will reflag as a Hyatt Regency when it reopens in the next two months. The properties are managed by M&L Hospitality, which also operates Hyatt's two hotels in Manchester, England.

The worst of the major hotel loyalty programs, IHG Rewards, promises it will be less awful in the near future. Its first focus, if you can call it that, is IHG's anemic elite levels. Effective immediately, there'll now be four levels, up from three, using a familiar silver/gold/platinum/diamond color-coding system. But the perks you'll receive at each level remain unknown. IHG promises to get back to us on that. Also unknown: whether the current platinum status awarded to Chase IHG credit cardholders stays the same. IHG Rewards currently offers no upgrade options, either as part of elite status or obtainable with points. There's no guarantee you can even claim a standard room with points if one is available. Worst of all, IHG points are worth as little as four-tenths of a cent in the dynamically priced award system. IHG's only saving grace? It has a gigantic global footprint that includes upscale properties (Regent); full-service options (InterContinental); the formerly boutique Kimpton chain; and the nearly ubiquitous Holiday Inn Express limited-service operation. Click here for the few details that IHG has released.
        American AAdvantage, which has a vested interest in keeping third parties from accessing its site and your account, is involved in mutually silly lawsuits with The Points Guy, a Web site that has a vested interest in making believe it's helpful so it can sell you credit cards from American and other travel "partners." If legal gymnastics between two players that don't have your best interest at heart interests you, read about it here.

Sweeney Todd may have "served a dark and a vengeful god," but the Demon Barber of Fleet Street has nothing on London banker William Clegg. In August, 2019, the 33-year-old Notting Hill resident assaulted no fewer than five crew members on a British Airways flight from San Jose, California, to London/Heathrow. Clegg's excuse, offered up last week in a London courtroom: He had "no conscious control" of his actions because he downed two Ambien tablets with three glasses of wine and two mini-bottles of Baileys Irish Cream. After a four-day trial and one hour of deliberation, the jury acquitted Clegg on all charges. But that may not be the most shocking part of this affair. It turns out that Clegg's lawyer, Trevor Burke, has gotten other violent flyers off with an alcohol-and-Ambien dodge. Among his clients: the 31-year-old Ryder Cup golfer Thorbjorn Olesen, accused of sexually assaulting a woman on a BA flight from Nashville to London. Olesen was acquitted last month after apologizing for mixing booze and Ambien, a popular insomnia drug that specifically warns people not to drink while taking it.

Breeze Airways, David Neeleman's latest start-up, has promised it would break out of its small cities/small planes strategy as soon as it receives its Airbus A220s. Now the first of the aircraft has arrived and that means Breeze will offer first class seats and the so-called Nicest fare. Seats will offer 39 inches of legroom as well as power and USB ports. The first of the aircraft roll out on May 4 and will be deployed on some flights from Tampa to Akron; Charleston, South Carolina; Louisville; Oklahoma City; and Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.
        Hertz is being sued for calling the cops on more than 100 renters it erroneously claimed stole their vehicles. Hertz's response, delivered to its bankruptcy court: "It is a fraction of one percent of annual police reports that are filed that turn into actual litigation claims." Then Hertz's lawyer, Chris Shore, told the judge: "We actually think the number of legitimate claims ... is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny fraction." I'm sure that reassures the renters arrested and jailed when Hertz dropped a phony dime on them.
        Great Western Railway, which runs the much-admired Night Riviera Sleeper train between London's Paddington Station, Devon and Cornwall, is suspending the service for two months. Starting Monday (January 24), track maintenance will derail the sleeper except for a few weekend trains.