Business Travel Briefing
For September 17-30, 2023
The briefing in brief: Delta does make SkyMiles "simpler" by screwing all elite members and cardholders. It was hard to notice this awful summer, but significant airport upgrades opened. Aer Lingus adds Denver flights and revives Minneapolis service. Delta will fly from Honolulu to Tokyo/Haneda. Red Way, a local start-up out of Nebraska, throws in the towel after just three months. American gets fined $4 million for violating DOT tarmac rules--and celebrates by holding a New York flight for five hours on the tarmac. And much more.

Full credit to Delta Air Lines. It promised a "Simpler SkyMiles" and it has delivered big time. It didn't confuse us with gradations of devaluations or improvements. It didn't stratify changes based on your Medallion elite status. It didn't play one category of Delta/Amex cardholder against another. And it didn't make program alterations that left us guessing which members benefitted and who lost. Instead, as promised, Delta kept it simple: It screwed everybody. Super elites lose. Mid-level elites lose. Entry-level elites lose. Delta credit cardholders lose. Amex Platinum cardholders lose. In case you haven't had a chance to digest Delta's boilerplate, here is the bad news in bullet points:
        Gone are rules requiring you to count miles (MQMs) or segments (MQSs) to reach Medallion status. All that matters now is dollars (MQDs) and Delta jacked up all qualification levels. Silver status starting in 2024 will require $6,000 in spend, up from the current $3,000. Gold will require $12,000 (up from $8,000). Platinum will require $18,000, up from $12,000. Top-level Diamond status will require $35,000 in qualifying spending, up from $20,000.
        Existing rollover miles can be converted, but at terrible rates: MQMs can convert to MQDs at an atrocious 20:1 ratio. If you opt for SkyMiles, they convert at a 2:1 ratio.
        Delta's Amex Reserve Card will earn only one MQD for every $10 charged. Amex Platinum cardholders will receive only one MQD for every $20 spend.
        Unless you spend at least $75,000 on a Delta Amex Reserve or Amex Platinum card, you'll lose unlimited access to Sky Clubs. Instead, Reserve cardholders will receive 10 visits and Amex Platinum cardholders get six. If you fly on a basic economy fare, you are are barred from Sky Clubs regardless of the card you carry or the membership you purchased.

The summer of our travel discontent has had one, admittedly thin, silver lining: significant improvements at many U.S. airports. Maybe when flying returns to "normal" we can admire some of the improvements. In the meantime, at least note the following changes:
        Denver has two new United Clubs, including the largest in the airline's system. The 35,000-square-foot club on the B Concourse near Gate 44 can handle 600 guests on two levels. (Flyers check in on a third level.) The lounge is beer-themed and offers at least 10 local craft brews on tap. The 24,000-square-foot club on A Concourse near Gate A26 takes its design cues from the Rockies. It seats 400, but also features a grab-and-go snack-and-beverage area, a concept United pioneered at Denver last year.
        Los Angeles now has a Skyway that connects Delta's 27-gate Terminal 3 with the Tom Bradley International Terminal. It's the final phase of Delta's improvements at LAX, which the airline values at $2.3 billion.
        Boston/Logan has opened its Terminal E expansion. The 320,000-square-foot facility includes four new gates and a 21,000-square-foot Delta Sky Club.
        Newark opened the final phase of its new Terminal A. It includes five gates and a 7,000-square-foot Delta Sky Club. Delta has moved from Terminal B and shares the new Terminal A with Air Canada, JetBlue, American Airlines and some United flights. A consolidated car-rental facility is due to open at Newark before the end of the year, too.
        Washington/Dulles is home to a new Capital One Bank lounge. It is located at the base of the control tower, one of the airport's iconic buildings designed by Eero Saarinen. The club offers a grab-and-go option that first appeared in Cap One's Dallas/Fort Worth club. There's also a bar, seating area and a menu of small plates for in-club consumption.
        Philadelphia now has a gym, a 1,500-square-foot club called Roam Fitness. Located in Terminal F, the facility charges $25 for a day pass. Roam already operates a gym in Baltimore/Washington.
        Lehigh Valley International has a new 40,000-square-foot terminal expansion, complete with TSA upgrades to four security checkpoint lanes. The airport serves Allentown, Pennsylvania, and surrounding communities.

With the summer nearly at an end, domestic travel is slowing so dramatically that several airlines have downgraded their financial projections for the rest of the year. International flying continues to boom, however, and that has led both domestic and overseas carriers to add routes and restore some that were chopped during the pandemic. Here's a brief look at the major changes:
        Aer Lingus is adding its first Denver-Dublin nonstops and reviving its Minneapolis-Dublin run. Minneapolis flights--four times weekly to start--return on April 29. The Denver service premiers on May 17, also on a four-times-a-week schedule. Airbus A330s configured with coach and business class will be used on both routes.
        Delta Air Lines adds daily nonstops between Honolulu and Tokyo/Haneda beginning October 28. Boeing 767-300ERs configured with business, Delta's international premium economy and coach will service the route. Meanwhile, Delta is clearly annoyed that Aer Lingus is returning to its fortress hub at MSP. Just hours after Aer Lingus announced the revival of its Dublin run, Delta announced its own MSP-Dublin nonstop. It'll operate five times weekly with Boeing 767-300s beginning May 9. On the other hand, Delta is at least temporarily ending its late-night New York/Kennedy-London/Gatwick route. It was launched this summer to harass Norse Atlantic and JetBlue, which began late-evening JFK-LGW runs this year. Delta ends the Gatwick run on October 29, but claims it'll return next summer.
        Kuwait Airways is launching a nonstop between Washington/Dulles and Kuwait City. The carrier will use Airbus A330-800s three times weekly beginning on December 15.

Red Way, a community start-up based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is so far in the red that it folded at the end of August. Funded primarily with $3 million in American Rescue Plan funds provided by Lincoln and surrounding Lancaster County, Red Way launched on June 8 with service to seven cities. Several runs were dropped in July and flights to destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando stopped on August 31. That leaves Lincoln once again in the grip of United Airlines, the only other carrier serving the state capital. It flies commuter service to its hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston.
        Norse Atlantic Airways will begin flying nonstop between Los Angeles and Paris/CDG next spring. The daily runs will use Boeing 787 Dreamliners configured with coach and Norse's premium cabin, which offers 43 inches of seat pitch in a 2x3x2 layout.
        Northern Pacific Airways, which had grandiose pre-pandemic plans to fly to Asia over a wayport hub in Anchorage, has changed its name to New Pacific Airlines. It is also dropping its only existing route (Ontario, California, to Las Vegas), but claims it'll launch two new runs in November: twice-weekly flights from Ontario to Reno and twice-weekly service between Ontario and Nashville. The carrier has a 181-seat Boeing 757, which is a crazy aircraft to fly on short hops like ONT-Reno or ONT-Las Vegas. So don't rush to book this start-up because, you know, crazy ...

The Transportation Department fined American Airlines $4.1 million late last month for violating the agency's three-hour tarmac rule 43 times between 2018 and 2021. The overlong delays affected more than 5,000 flyers, the DOT said, at the same time excusing $2 million of the fine in recognition of American's compensation to flyers. To show how seriously it took the DOT enforcement action, American last week held a New York/LaGuardia departure for at least five hours on the tarmac.
        Finnair says it will switch to Avios points as its frequent flyer program currency. The conversion will occur next year and existing Finnair points will convert to Avios at a 3:2 ratio. A Oneworld Alliance member, Finnair joins many other Oneworld carriers, including British Airways, Iberia and Qatar Airways, using Avios.
        The TSA says four more carriers now can offer PreCheck security bypass. The most notable carriers are Cayman Airways and French Bee.