Business Travel Briefing
For October 1-14, 2023
The briefing in brief: Congress just kicked the next possible government shutdown right to the Thanksgiving travel rush. The walks at Miami International have suddenly gotten very long. American and Delta will add nonstops to Naples. Lufthansa adds Frankfurt nonstops from Minneapolis and Raleigh/Durham. Alaska Airlines will fly nonstop between San Diego and Atlanta. Watch for more U.S. flights from Mexican airlines. And much more.

With fewer than three hours to spare, Congress last night passed a "continuing resolution" to keep the U.S. government funded for another 45 days. That bipartisan brinkmanship may or may not be good modern politics, but it's certainly awful travel policy. Why? The new kick-the-can shutdown date is Friday, November 17--the start of what is likely to be the busiest Thanksgiving holiday flying period in history. If the U.S. government shuts down then, air traffic controllers, TSA checkpoint agents and airport Customs and Immigration inspectors will be required to work without pay. At best, that will make them unhappy and unlikely to exert maximum effort to rapidly process flights and flyers. At worst, many agents, controllers and inspectors won't show up at all. That'll mean calamitously long lines at airport security checkpoints and Customs processing barriers. And with the ranks of air traffic controllers already depleted--there are about 1,200 fewer on duty now than during the last government shutdown in 2019--the FAA will surely slow down flights to keep safety margins tolerable. If you want a sense of the looming disaster, consider: TSA statistics say that more than 22.1 million people passed through airport checkpoints on the ten days between Friday, November 18, and Sunday, November 27, 2022. More than 23 million passed through checkpoints during the last ten days through Thursday, so it's conceivable that 25 million or more might try to fly this Thanksgiving holiday. Won't that be fun in the middle of a government shutdown?

American Airlines controls nearly 60% of the traffic at Miami and most of its flights and the carrier's ticket counter operate at Concourse D. The sprawling terminal--it's about a mile-long walk from end to end--has relied on the airport Skytrain to keep passengers moving. But now construction flaws have shut down the train and flyers face monumental walks between gates. Worse, the train may be out of service for months as the airport deals with deteriorating concrete support piers. The airport says it is operating golf-cart "trolleys" to fill the gap, but flyers already complain the carts are too sporadic and always filled to capacity. Plan accordingly. The terminal map is here.

U.S. carriers just can't get enough Italy. But with Milan/Malpensa crowded--Emirates, La Compagnie and Italian niche player NEOS fly there along with Alitalia descendant ITA and all three U.S. majors--and Rome/FCO a mostly seasonal leisure market, attention must be paid elsewhere. Venice also has about as much U.S. service as it can handle. So now American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have decided to join United Airlines with nonstops to Naples. United operates there from its Newark hub, of course, but American will jump in from its Philadelphia hub and Delta will add New York/Kennedy service. Delta launches daily flights on May 23 and American's new route begins on June 5.
        Delta Air Lines is pulling out of Dusseldorf--pizza is more appealing than pea soup, apparently--and has decided not to revive flights to Tokyo from Portland, Oregon.
        Lufthansa says it will launch nonstops to Raleigh/Durham and Minneapolis next year. Five weekly flights to Frankfurt from both RDU and MSP begin in June.

After more than two years in aviation purgatory when Mexican flag airlines could not add new service and routes to the United States, the FAA has upgraded Mexico back to Category 1 safety status. The bureaucratic change was immediately met with an announcement from Viva Aerobus, a large Mexican discount carrier. It says it will soon add flights to six U.S. cities: Austin, Oakland, Denver, Miami, Orlando and New York/JFK. All flights will operate from Viva's Monterrey hub. Watch for more new routes from Mexican carriers in coming weeks.
        Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is once again manned by TSA agents at the airport checkpoints. It means only 21 U.S. airports still use non-TSA employees to process travelers. The so-called TSA opt-out process is allowed although airports are at pains to prove they meet TSA standards for security processing.
        Global Entry now has an app. Why is that notable? The app from the Customs-bypass service allows travelers to bypass airport kiosks and process their reentry to the United States via smartphone. The seven airports are Sea-Tac, LAX, Miami, Orlando (MCO), Washington/Dulles, Pittsburgh and Houston/Intercontinental. Customs says other airports will come online for app processing in the months ahead.

Here's a new route you may not have expected: Alaska Airlines says it will fly nonstop between its proto-hub in San Diego and Atlanta, hometown and fortress hub of Delta Air Lines, which has been pressuring Alaska for years at its home airport of Seattle-Tacoma. Daily flights begin May 16.
        American Express says its Platinum Card now includes subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal as part of the $20-a-month streaming/entertainment statement credit. But the credit doesn't apply automatically. You have to make sure Amex knows you want it.
        Air Belgium is the latest casualty in the European skies. Scheduled passenger flights end Tuesday (October 3) because the carrier says they have been "chronically unprofitable."
        United Airlines has been dumped by LOT Polish as a code-share partner. The two carriers remain members of the Star Alliance and most of LOT's flights to the United States will continue to operate to United hubs.

As if the shutdown brinksmanship this week wasn't enough to convince you that travel and politics are inextricably linked, consider what's going on North of the Border in Canada. A Sikh separatist leader was assassinated in British Columbia in June. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went before Parliament two weeks ago and claimed there were "credible allegations" that Indian government agents were involved. India was incensed since it years ago classified the victim, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a "designated terrorist." What was the first thing India did to retaliate against Canada? It has "temporarily" stopped processing visa applications, essentially choking travel between the two nations. The "temporary" halt is still in place. So the next time you think JoeSentMe gores your political ox, remember: There's virtually no distinction between the act of travel and the machinations of politics.