Business Travel Briefing
For March 26-April 14, 2023
The briefing in brief: You wanted a pre-Covid travel world? Europe's skies are back to normal with strikes paralyzing transportation. Biden's nominee for FAA Administrator withdraws after the Senate cancels a vote on his nomination. How's Delta's free, in-flight WiFi going? Kansas City opens a single-terminal to replace its once-grandiose three-terminal operation. Cleveland will impose a new daily fee on airport car rentals. The government's case against the JetBlue-Spirit merger won't begin until October. Norse Atlantic adds new flights to London. And more.

Britain's most important frequent flyer, the monarch, canceled a business trip to France during the week. King Charles bailed on his meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron due to widespread street demonstrations and scattered rioting as French citizens continue to oppose the country's new retirement rules. The demonstrations have caused sporadic flight and rail delays and some cancellations, all of them unpredictable. And Monday (March 27) brings an all-modes transport strike in Germany. Airlines canceled most flights into and out of the country today (March 26) and there will be very little national rail, long-haul bus or local public transportation tomorrow. Meanwhile, periodic transport strikes in England, Italy, Austria and Spain have caused widespread inconvenience in those countries. More are on the way as transport workers demand raises to offset Europe's post-Covid inflationary spiral. So is this the pre-Covid "normal" you were missing during the pandemic?

President Biden's nominee as FAA administrator, Phillip Washington, won't be going to Washington after all. Mr. Washington withdrew his candidacy over the weekend after the Senate Commerce Committee last week abruptly canceled a key vote on his nomination. All Senate Republicans were united in their opposition to Washington and several Democrats were also leaning against voting for him. Biden made the appointment nine months ago, but Washington's nomination has been mired in Washington politics ever since. Critics note his lack of aviation experience and his tangential involvement in a Los Angeles transportation scandal. Currently chief executive of Denver International Airport, Washington has also run transit systems in Los Angeles and Denver. He has no direct experience with airlines or aircraft manufacturing, however. Republican senators pointed to that slim aviation background as part of their opposition. Washington's withdrawal comes at a key period for the FAA in light of recent airport near misses and the meltdown of its NOTAMs system earlier this year. At the moment, the FAA is run on a day-to-day basis by acting administrator Billy Nolen, a pilot and former executive at several U.S. airlines.

Kansas City International has opened a gleaming new single terminal building to replace its old three-terminal operation, which was built in the days when the city was home to a TWA international hub and maintenance facility. The new, $1.5 billion terminal, built on the site of demolished Terminal A, has 40 gates spread over two passenger concourses, about 50 dining and retail outlets and an 11,000-square-foot Delta Sky Club. The old Terminals B and C, which date to 1972 and were part of Kansas City's "airport of the future," have been closed and will be razed. "It's a billion-plus-dollar investment in Kansas City's future and, I guess, recognition that TWA is never coming back and we'll never need three terminals again," one city official told me last week.
        Cleveland/Hopkins opened a consolidated rental car facility with much pomp and circumstance back in 1998. Just 25 years later, however, Cleveland is giving up on that idea and returning car rentals to an at-terminal facility. The new operation is expected to cost at least $200 million and will be part of the revitalization of Cleveland's aging main passenger terminal. Guess who will be paying for Cleveland's about-face? Yup, you. Starting later this spring--exact date not determined--Cleveland will impose a rental-car surcharge as high as $8 per day to fund the new building, which will take three or four years to build and open.

Delta Air Lines last month made in-flight WiFi free for SkyMiles members, at least partially fulfilling a promise the carrier has been making for several years. The WiFi is a bit less than meets the eye, however. Only about 500 domestic aircraft are equipped with the Viasat high-speed system that can easily handle the demand when the connections are free. Delta promises at least 200 more planes equipped with Viasat by the end of the year. The airline's fleet of Boeing 717s and most of its regional jets are equipped with an older WiFi system and won't receive the Viasat connection until at least the end of next year. Delta's fleet of international aircraft will also need to be equipped. Still, early reviews of the free Viasat network are encouraging. "Over two days I had four segments on Delta and am delighted and a bit surprised" that the service is excellent, one JoeSentMe member says. "In fact, the WiFi on the flights was more usable than the WiFi in the Philadelphia SkyClub."

If you thought that proposed JetBlue-Spirit merger was somehow on a fast track to completion, think again. The Transportation Department has rejected JetBlue's request to allow the two carriers to operate under common ownership while the government's case against the $3.8 billion merger winds its way through courts. That was a pro forma rejection, of course, but indicates that the government will fight long and hard to keep the two carriers as separate entities. Separately, the federal judge hearing the government's suit against the merger says that the trial won't start until October 16th. He expects the case will take around three weeks. Stay tuned.
        Southwest Airlines may allow you to check two bags for free, but it has effectively raised the price for in-flight WiFi. Southwest previously charged $8 per day to access its in-flight system. The price is now $8 per flight, which essentially doubles your cost if you have a connecting itinerary on Southwest.
        Norse Atlantic, the emotional if not legal successor to Norwegian Air, is planning a huge expansion at London/Gatwick later this spring and summer. Starting in late May, it will add nonstops from Gatwick to Washington/Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Boston/Logan.