Business Travel Briefing
For December 8-31, 2022
The briefing in brief: Two more airlines jump into the very crowded market for flights to France. Loyalty programs remind you that pandemic perks are history. Can Newark Airport be fixed? We'll know more next month when the new Terminal A opens. Alaska Airlines ends free lounge access for most first class flyers. Under court order, Iberia begins weighing carry-on bags. Air Canada launches live, in-flight television broadcasts. And more.

Even in the imprecise world of travel statistics, the "experts" agree on one thing: France is, year after year, the most-visited nation on the planet. So it shouldn't shock you when another carrier or two wades into the crowded market for flights between North America and Paris. Now it is JetBlue Airways and Norse Atlantic, carriers at opposite ends of the low-fare/high-fee totem. Although it has not announced a specific start date, JetBlue says it will launch daily Airbus A321LR flights from New York/Kennedy to CDG next summer. JetBlue, which began flights to London last summer, says the narrowbody aircraft will be configured with 24 seatbeds and a total of 114 coach and extra-legroom seats. Meanwhile, Norse Atlantic says it'll begin Boeing 787 Dreamliner service between JFK and CDG on March 26. Those flights will be heavy with tight coach seats and a decent premium cabin offering chairs configured 2x3x2 with 43 inches of pitch. To say the skies to Paris are already crowded is a huge understatement. All three mainline U.S. carriers--American, Delta and United--fly to France. So, too, Canada's two largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet. The French flag carrier, Air France, serves both the United States and Canada, of course. But wait, there's more. All-business-class La Compagnie flies between Newark and Paris/Orly. And a pair of French discounters--French Bee and Corsair--currently dominate the low-fare/high-fee bottom of the market. In fact, French Bee adds a fourth city, Miami, to its U.S. route map on December 15. The privately held carrier already serves Paris/Orly from Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

After a couple of years of bending rules and adding perks for travelers grounded by the Covid pandemic, airline and hotel loyalty programs are making sure you know: This isn't 2020 anymore and if you want status, be prepared to pony up more for it. Here's a quick look at some of the changes to expect in the weeks ahead and during 2023:
        Air Canada Aeroplan is watering down the value of its 35K elite level. Members at the 35,000-point level will no longer receive Maple Leaf Lounge access. That perk has been replaced by just two lounge passes per year.
        Air France/KLM Flying Blue now restricts its first class awards--they are a rare commodity available only on some Air France long-haul flights--to Platinum-level members. On the positive side, Flying Blue is bundling a free stopover with itineraries booked entirely on Air France and KLM aircraft.
        Marriott Bonvoy is increasing the cost of reaching Ambassador status in 2023. The 100-night-stay requirement remains, but Marriott is bumping the annual spend requirement to $23,000, up from the current $20,000.
        United MileagePlus is hiking requirements for elite status in 2023. To reach the top 1K level, for example, United will demand 18,000 premier qualifying points (PQPs) and 54 premier qualifying flights, or 24,000 PQPs alone. One small new perk: award travel will now count toward status and United is eliminating award cancellation and redeposit fees.

With LaGuardia Airport rescued from "third-world" status and plans afoot for new terminals at Kennedy Airport, the Port Authority, which controls the major airports in the New York metropolitan area, is turning its attention to the hellhole that is Newark. Can EWR be saved? We'll know more when the first part of the airport's renovation plan, Terminal A, opens next month. The $2.7 billion facility, with a million square feet of space, got a star-studded ribbon-cutting last month and was scheduled to open on Thursday (December 8). But the launch date was abruptly pushed back by the Port on Monday (December 5) and rescheduled for January. It says additional testing on fire alarms and security systems is needed. When it finally does open, the new Terminal A will be managed by a subsidiary of the company that operates the well-regarded Munich Airport. There will eventually be 33 gates. The first 21 will be ready by opening day and the other dozen are slated to debut in the spring. United Airlines, the 800-pound gorilla at Newark, will control 15 gates. The others will be used by American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Air Canada, United's Star Alliance partner.
        Houston/Intercontinental has the latest outpost of Minute Suites. The five-suite operation, accessible for one hour free via Priority Pass, is located near Gate C14.
        Denver International is the launch location for United Airlines' Club Fly lounge concept. The smallish facility is not designed for visiting, cocooning or sanctuary. It's a grab-and-go marketplace operation where you can secure complimentary non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, sandwiches, salads and wraps and coffee drinks and then move along. The facility is located in Concourse B-East.

One of the small perks that separated Alaska Airlines from its competitors was complimentary lounge access for first class domestic flyers. Now that nicety is gone. Now if you fly first on Alaska on itineraries under 2,100 miles, you'll have to pay your way into an Alaska Airlines lounge or have a club membership. To add insult to injury, Alaska is raising the price of an annual membership by $50 effective January 1.
        Iberia, the Spanish flag carrier, is now weighing all carry-on bags by order of Spain's National Court. Why is the court involved? The deep overhead bins on Iberia's Airbus A-350s--there are more than 100 on each aircraft--are so capacious that flight attendants claimed they couldn't close them. (As you know, the A350 bins must be lifted into place in order to be closed.) They sued the airline and the court agreed that flight attendants could not be expected to accomplish the task when the bins were overstuffed with overweight carry-on bags. Iberia carry-on rules limit bags to 10 to 14 kilograms per piece.

Air Canada has launched in-flight live television broadcasts on some domestic flights. About 40 aircraft are already configured to offer the service. The airline says it is carrying the CTV News Channel, sports broadcasts via the TSN and RDS networks, business news from Bloomberg and LCN, a French-language all-news station based in Quebec.
        Venice has again delayed plans to impose a "tourist tax" on visitors to the center city. The tax system, which also would require day trippers to book reservations to visit the heart of La Serenissima, had been scheduled to go live next month.
        Amtrak says ridership has reached about 85% of pre-pandemic levels. That's around 23 million trips in fiscal year 2022, which ended in September.