Business Travel Briefing
For October 8-22, 2023
The briefing in brief: SAS Scandinavian will leave the Star Alliance for SkyTeam. United ends three long-haul international routes with no notice. Porter Airlines says it'll fly to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Toronto/Pearson. Japan Airlines' new first class pods feature two seats that convert to large sofas and double beds. San Antonio gets its first Europe nonstops. Delta Air Lines finally pays off on pandemic cancellations. Cathay Pacific returns to Chicago. And much more.

Despite claims from Hamas that it launched a missile attack overnight Sunday (October 8) on Ben Gurion Airport, El Al has resumed most of its flights into and out of Tel Aviv. The U.S. airlines? Not so much. The three carriers flying into TLV--American, Delta and United--cancelled all service through Monday (October 9) and they say resuming flights depends on conditions on the ground. Best guess? American will have the longest service suspension since it has never been high on Israel flights and recently dropped its Miami nonstops. Delta and United will be more eager to resume flights, but it could be weeks. That means if you need to get into or out of Israel, El Al is your best bet--if you can find seats. European carriers are circumspect. Air France and KLM have temporarily cancelled their flights. British Airways has dumped one of two daily nonstops from London/Heathrow through next week and the Lufthansa Group carriers have dropped all flights at least through Monday. Future service is unclear. "The problem isn't what has happened," an executive of one European airline told me via E-mail Sunday afternoon. "It is that we cannot know what is coming. It's reckless to send passengers, crew and equipment into a war zone. You really do have to take it one day at a time."

You don't see a founding member of an airline alliance defecting to a competitor every day, but here we are: SAS Scandinavian Airlines says it will depart the Star Alliance next year and switch to SkyTeam. The change is due to the financial reorganization of the bankrupt carrier. In SAS' new era, Air France/KLM will take a 19.9% ownership stake and hold the option to eventually take a controlling interest. Along with United Airlines, Air Canada and Lufthansa, SAS founded Star in 1997. Air France/KLM is a founding member of SkyTeam, of course. SAS says its Eurobonus frequent flyer program will continue, but didn't say if it also will participate in Flying Blue, the Air France/KLM plan.
        United Airlines has been expanding internationally at a rapid pace, but it is suddenly exiting three high-profile routes. Gone from the winter schedule, which begins at the end of the month, are nonstops from United's Newark hub to both Hong Kong and Mumbai. Also deleted are planned flights from United's San Francisco hub to Delhi. The airline hasn't commented on the long-haul cancellations.

Once upon a time, before its 2010 bankruptcy and before the rapid international growth of competitor All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines was considered one of the world's best and most creative carriers. JAL is going for the Wow! Factor again with an inventive first class pod that will be installed on Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. Each pod is outfitted with a pair of asymmetrical side-by-side seats that also functions as a 48-inch-wide sofa. Each seat independently converts to a single bed or can be combined into a double bed. Each chair also features headphone-free speakers integrated into the headrests. The new pods--six per aircraft in a 1x1x1 configuration--also offer 43-inch monitors, clothing wardrobes, minibars, under-seat storage for several carry-on bags and 62-inch-high privacy walls. You can view a brief video of the new pods here. JAL has 13 A350-1000s on order and the first is due by the end of the year on the New York/JFK-Tokyo/Haneda nonstop.
        Cathay Pacific has restored Chicago/O'Hare-Hong Kong nonstops. There are three roundtrips a week using Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.

It's a seasonal run operated by a niche carrier, but fast-growing San Antonio International can now say it has a nonstop service to Europe. Condor Airlines will run three weekly flights to its Frankfurt hub beginning May 17. Service will continue until September 6 using Condor's new Airbus A330neo aircraft configured with 30 seatbeds in business class, 64 premium economy seats and 216 coach chairs.
        Porter Airlines says it is adding nonstops to San Francisco and Los Angeles. But the airline, based at Toronto/City Airport, will operate the flights from Toronto/Pearson. Daily roundtrips begin in January using Embraer E195-E2 jets configured with 132 coach seats in a 2x2 layout.

Delta Air Lines has settled a class-action lawsuit resulting from its refunds--or lack thereof--for flights cancelled during the pandemic. For the 14,000 flyers who submitted claims by September 15, Delta will pay refunds and 7% interest into a fund worth around $27 million. The airline will also pay $2.3 million in attorney fees and other expenses. Delta didn't admit guilt in the settlement--of course it didn't--for cancellations between March 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021. According to the court filings, about 20% of travelers eligible for refunds instead of flight credits filed for compensation.
        Government per diem rates have been set for travel between October 1 through September 30, The standard continental U.S. hotel rate is $107, up from $98 last fiscal year. Meal and incidental per diems remain $59-$$79 depending on location.

American Express continues to fiddle around the edges of its Membership Rewards program. The latest change: Effective December 31, Amex will stop selling points. Travelers have been able to purchase extra points for $25 per 1,000.
        Equair, a domestic Ecuadorian carrier, has folded. The two-year-old airline had a large share of the market between the capital of Quito and Guayaquil and for flights to the Galapagos Islands.
        COVID-19 vaccination cards are done. The federal government printed about a billion of the cards that showed your vaccine status. No more will be printed. If you need proof of Covid vaccination in the future, you'll have to apply for it just like any other health record.