Business Travel Briefing
For March 10-March 24, 2022
The briefing in brief: In-flight mask mandate extended to April 18, but there's no word on testing to return to the United States. American drops some international routes blaming an aircraft shortage and United dumps a raft of small cities blaming a pilot shortage. Star Alliance now allows you to pay into its lounges in Los Angeles and Buenos Aires. Start-up Breeze and Avelo add more routes. The Silver Line to Washington/Dulles is delayed again. And more, including the daily Coronavirus and daily Ukraine updates.

Via a CDC recommendation and a TSA edict, the Biden Administration today (March 10) extended the transportation mask mandate for another month. It was due to expire March 18, of course, but the extension pushes that date to April 18 and means we'll need to stay masked up in airports and train terminals and on flights and aboard Amtrak. The extension, most likely the last, is product of days of Washington bureaucratic in-fighting and compromise. Some factions wanted to let the mandate expire, others wanted a longer extension until the start of the summer travel season near Memorial Day. Why a one-month deal? It gets the country past spring break and the Easter/Passover holiday, a period when many less experienced travelers are on the road. It also punts the deadline past the current crisis point created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has dominated the attention of both the public and the Biden Administration. "Least, worst option," one White House official E-mailed me this morning to explain the move. Besides, another source tells me, the Biden Administration may be ready to "declare victory" over the pandemic in a month and lifting what is essentially the nation's last major indoor mask mandate would be a handy prop.

The extension of the in-flight mask mandate (see above) raises another question: How long will vaccinated Americans and international visitors be required to test a day before arrival? While the requirement isn't onerous if you travel with the proctored, online self-tests offered by firms such as, the test kits are cumbersome to pack, somewhat time-consuming and, at $150 for a six-pack, not a completely trivial cost. The bad news: As far as I've been able to discern, there's been no discussion in recent days about lifting the mandate. Besides, as the Biden Administration continues to promote testing--you now can order a second set of free tests for at-home use at the entry-testing rule now may not look politically correct. Stay tuned on this one.
        American Airlines is "temporarily" dropping service on three routes: LAX-Sydney; Seattle-London/Heathrow; and Dallas/Fort Worth-Santiago, Chile. It is also delaying the launch of DFW-Tel Aviv flights. The reason? Boeing is late on delivery of Boeing 787-800 aircraft and American claims it can't operate the routes without its new planes.
        The Bahamas is the first international destination with a TSA PreCheck location. The PreCheck line opened last month at Nassau (NAS), the main airport for travel between the islands and the United States.

Converting a members-only airport lounge to the paid, "common-use" model isn't as easy as you think. Not only do you have to create a system for taking payments, you often must renegotiate your airport leases. After all, airports expect a piece of the action right off the top if you charge for entry. But the Star Alliance, which operates a network of branded clubs in six airports, is slowly working through the process. In fact, it now offers paid lounge access at both Los Angeles and Buenos Aires. But prices are not cheap: $70 for a three-hour visit at the LAX club in the Tom Bradley International Terminal and $50 at the Buenos Aires lounge. Access can be pre-purchased at the Star Alliance Web site. Travelers who already qualify for free entry via Star status continue to have that perk.
        American Airlines has reopened its Flagship Lounge in Dallas/Fort Worth and says it will reopen the Flagship facility at Chicago/O'Hare on March 30.

Airlines hate paying pilots--regional pilots often earn less than truck drivers--so, naturally, there's a huge pilot shortage. And that's what United Airlines is blaming for a rather startling shrinkage of its route network. It is ending service on 17 routes and totally exiting one city (Alexandria, Louisiana). The route cuts will come from all of its hubs. This is atop the 14 routes it dropped from its Washington/Dulles hub earlier this year. Meanwhile, other cuts are coming via United Express carrier SkyWest. The commuter carrier told the Transportation Department today (March 10) that it wants to drop flights to 29 cities it serves under the Essential Air Service subsidy plan. If the DOT agrees, flights will end in 90 days to airports such as Hays, Liberal, Dodge City and Salina, Kansas; Sioux Falls, Iowa; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; and Lewisburg, West Virginia. Most of the cities on SkyWest's kill list are not served by any other airline and the DOT will try to replace SkyWest within a 90-day window. If you fly United, especially into or out of smaller markets, check your reservations carefully and buckle up for even more inconvenience in the coming weeks.
        Breeze Airways, the 10-month-old start-up from JetBlue founder David Neeleman, expects a slew of Airbus A220s this year and has announced 35 new routes and 10 new cities. New destinations include Las Vegas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Syracuse, New York. New routes will not be daily, but usually involve two or three flights a week.
        Avelo Airlines, which operates from hubs in Burbank, California, and New Haven, Connecticut, has announced four new routes. Three are from Connecticut, where it is in a pitched battle with Breeze, which is building at Hartford/Bradley Airport. Avelo's New Haven/Tweed Airport additions are runs to Baltimore/Washington, Raleigh-Durham and Chicago/Midway. All three launch May 26 with five weekly flights. Avelo is also adding a Boise-Burbank route on May 24.

This surely won't surprise you: The Washington Metro Silver Line extension to Washington/Dulles has been delayed again. The 11-mile, six-station run has been under development for more than a decade and its opening is already at least three years late. Now the promise of a spring debut has faded away and it'll be at least the summer before you can use the service.
        Air India, now privately owned by the Tata Group, has lost its new chief executive before he even started. Ilker Ayci, former chairman of Turkish Airlines, was appointed last month. He's already quit because, you know, Air India.
        WestJet, the Canadian discounter, is buying Sunwing, which operates mostly to Caribbean sun destinations. There's the usual battery of legal hurdles to overcome and neither carrier expects the deal to close before the end of the year.
        Delta Air Lines last month couldn't wait to tell you about degraded in-flight service thanks to a commitment to the environment. Yeah, about that: The airline also owns an oil refinery and, in support of fossil fuel, it has been quietly campaigning and lobbying against environmental measures. Read all about Delta's duplicity here.