Business Travel Briefing
For March 17-March 31, 2022
The briefing in brief: Stop listening to travel pundits. They don't know what's coming on fares--or anything else. The Transportation Department says SkyWest can't drop flights to 29 cities until the agency says so. KLM says it will buck the Dutch in-flight mask mandate. American says it will resume alcohol sales in coach. WestJet will launch flights between Chicago and Toronto. Emirates begins Tel Aviv flights in June. And more, including the daily Coronavirus and daily Ukraine updates.

On Friday (March 11), the price of Brent crude, which closely tracks the price of jet fuel, hit $140 a barrel. Yesterday (March 16), it was $98. We have had two years of pandemic that has scrambled all our assumptions about flying. There's a brutal invasion in Europe and Covid is raging in China again. To say we're living (and traveling) in unprecedented times is a monstrous understatement. But that hasn't stopped the mass-media travel pundits from telling you they know what's coming next: Book now or risk gigantic fare increases! Record-high gasoline prices will force Americans to curtail their summer vacations! Airlines will be forced to slash capacity! Some or all of these things might happen. But all of the opposites could happen, too. No one--especially the pundits who can't wait to explain it all to you on TV, radio or in print--know what's coming next. They're all guessing--and talking--because that is what they do. My best advice? Listen to none of it. Since none of us have ever seen conditions like this, there is no way of knowing what is coming next. If you need to plan and buy travel now, do it. If you can wait, do it. It's useless trying to outguess a world where energy prices can swing 30% in a matter of days and we've had two years of "staycations" and pent-up demand. You do you. Don't listen to pundits trying to tell you how to outguess the crazy.

Like a lot of oligarchies, U.S. airlines try to socialize losses and privatize profits. So faced with rising oil prices and a pilot shortage mostly of the industry's making, SkyWest Airlines announced last week that it would drop flights to 29 cities. Most runs operate as United Express--and all were granted to SkyWest via Essential Air Service, a contracted system underwritten by taxpayer grants. Needless to say, the Department of Transportation is having none of it--and rebuked SkyWest in surprisingly sharp language. Noting that the huge regional carrier has been receiving nifty subsidies for the flights--$3.6 million annually to fly two daily roundtrips between Hays, Kansas, and United's Denver hub, for example--the DOT ordered SkyWest to keep flying all 29 routes. The DOT says it will solicit replacements for SkyWest in a bidding process that'll begin April 11, but the airline cannot drop flights until new service is contracted and approved. Of course, airlines are sleazy. Watch for SkyWest to begin cancelling flights on the 29 routes, claiming operational difficulties or no passenger demand or an ill wind from somewhere. Because oligarchies are gonna oligarch ...

The Netherlands is dropping virtually all Covid rules on Wednesday, March 23. Negative tests will no longer be required to enter the country and wearing masks in public also won't be required. But there is one exception: Dutch authorities maintained a mask mandate at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and on flights to or from the Netherlands. That drew a furious response from KLM and several smaller carriers based in the Netherlands. We "consider this approach inappropriate, given the stage of the pandemic," KLM fumed. "It is at odds with European and international developments." More importantly, KLM and the other carriers say, they will stop enforcing the Dutch in-flight mask mandate. Masks will still be required on flights between the United States and Amsterdam because the United States still has a mask mandate, but KLM is saying that it'll ignore Dutch rules whenever a flight involves a destination that has abandoned mask mandates. Schiphol authorities have been silent on the matter, so it will be interesting to see what happens next week. (By the way, both the KLM and Schiphol Web sites continue to insist masks be worn at all times, so have your masks at the ready.)
        American Airlines says its London flight will begin operating from two terminals at Heathrow. Beginning March 27, AA flights from New York/JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Miami will arrive at and depart from Terminal 5, home of AA's Oneworld partner British Airways. All other AA flights to Heathrow will continue to use Terminal 3.

The major airlines gave presentations to financial conferences this week and their conclusions and announced actions were surprisingly muted. They predicted fares would rise (because, of course, they would), but aren't too worried about their route networks. The ugly energy environment is leading to some marginal cuts--one or two percent of capacity compared to earlier projections for the first half--but nothing drastic.
        London travelers beware: More than a few hotels in the British capital have been imposing a 5% service charge on room folios.This practice is illegal under U.K. consumer lawss. Quoted hotel rates must include all required charges, taxes and fees and no surcharges are permitted. If your hotel tries to impose an extra fee at checkout, demand it be removed. The hotel is not allowed to charge it and they will remove it, claiming the fee really was an "option" all along.
        American Airlines says it will resume selling alcohol in coach on April 18. That's the same day the in-flight mask mandate is currently set to expire.
        WestJet says it will launch flights between Chicago/O'Hare and Toronto/Pearson on May 19. There'll be one daily roundtrip using Dash-8s.

The United Arab Emirates has debased itself by becoming one of the few safe harbors for Russian kleptocrats sheltering their ill-gotten gains from Western sanctions. And Emirates Airlines of Dubai and Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi continue to fly into Russia, offering Putin's thugs convenient escape routes. But these are complicated times and even bad actors occasionally do good things. To wit: Helping bury decades of enmity and war between the Arab world and Israel, Emirates announced this week that it would finally launch flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv. Daily roundtrips begin on June 23. Widebody Boeing 777-300ERs outfitted with eight first class suites, 42 business class seats and 304 coach chairs will be used on the short (3-hour) hop. And while Israel-Emirates service has not been without hiccups--security issues flare up and Coronavirus hampered operations--El Al, Etihad and several other carriers have been operating DXB-TLV flights since late 2020.