Business Travel Briefing
For October 15-31, 2023
The briefing in brief: Delta will fly to Tulum, the new airport on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. El Al's plan to link the United States and Asia via its Tel Aviv hub will be collateral damage in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Italy's ITA Airways will fly nonstop from Rome to Chicago and Toronto. ETIAS, a European digital database of travelers, is delayed again. A truly terrible week at the airports. And much more.

Most major international airlines officially abandoned flights to Tel Aviv this week, once again leaving Israeli flag carrier EL Al as the country's only reliable link to the outside world. But even as its flights were packed with nervous visitors fleeing the country and flyers headed home to fulfill their military obligations, El Al is shaping up as collateral damage in the conflict between Israel and Hamas terrorists. Before the brutal attacks, El Al had just begun pitching Tel Aviv to Americans as a hub for onward flights to Asia and other destinations. It even created a stay-on-the-way plan offering U.S. travelers a free, seven-day Israel stopover when they booked onward connections to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, New Delhi, Johannesburg and several other destinations. And, of course, the airline had already switched to a fleet of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners from its six U.S. gateways. "I don't see [El Al] drawing much connecting traffic through TLV for the next few years," an executive at a U.S. carrier told me this week. "As much as Americans want to visit Israel, there are plenty of safer places to change planes." Meanwhile, Delta and Air Canada say they won't return to Tel Aviv until at least October 31. American says its New York-Tel Aviv route is done until at least December 4 and United's Israel flights are cancelled "until conditions allow them to resume." Among European airlines, Finnair, Air France, KLM, British Airways and Turkish Airlines now have cancelled their Israel services, too.

Mexican officials are rushing to finish a new airport in Tulum, the fast-growing resort community about a two-hour drive down the coast from Cancun. The facility on the Yucatan Peninsula is officially dubbed Felipe Carrillo International and has been assigned the code TQO. SkyTeam member Aeromexico has already announced a daily flight to Tulum from its Mexico City hub. It will use an Embraer E190 on the route, officially slated to launch December 1. Delta Air Lines, Aeromexico's SkyTeam and code-share partner, has also announced it will fly to Tulum. Its weekly Sunday nonstop from Atlanta using 160-seat Boeing 737-800s is due to begin March 28. Other U.S. carriers are sure to follow.
        Houston/Intercontinental has a new club lounge. Well, a new lounge in the shell of an old one. After a long closure, KLM has opened a totally renovated 3,900-square-foot Crown Room in Terminal D near Gate 7. The lounge is open from 6am to 9pm and accepts Priority Pass for entry.

The successor to Alitalia, ITA Airways, already has cut a deal to become a vassal of Lufthansa, which also controls Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines and Swiss. Lufthansa is a founding member of the Star Alliance and has a joint-venture arrangement with United Airlines, a Star Alliance member based at Chicago/O'Hare. I tell you all that because it explains this move: ITA will launch a Chicago-Rome nonstop beginning April 7. There will be six weekly flights at the launch and will go daily next June. But, wait, there's even more. ITA will also launch a nonstop from Rome to Toronto, a hub for Air Canada, still another Star Alliance member. The Toronto-Rome nonstop begins May 1 with six weekly flights. It, too, will go daily in June.

It wasn't your imagination: Airports really were substantially more crowded this summer. According to the Transportation Department, U.S. airlines carried 87.8 million flyers in July, up 9.3% from July, 2022. It was also 1% higher than traffic in July, 2019, the last pre-pandemic summer.
        ETIAS, the European system that will require all visitors to the European Union register for a digital database before traveling, has been delayed again. An acronym for European Travel Information and Authorisation System, ETIAS was originally proposed in 2016. It has blown through several start dates and EU officials most recently insisted it would, finally, begin in May, 2024. It is now rescheduled for May, 2025, although insiders insist that date, too, is fungible.
        Brightline, Florida's private-rail line, has opened a station in Orlando. The railroad now links Miami with Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura and Orlando. More information can be found here.

When we talk about "terrible" days or weeks at the airport, it's usually a first-world problem like delayed or cancelled flights or the odd problem at a terminal or on the roadways. This week, however, reminds us that things can always be much, much worse. On Tuesday (October 10), a parking garage at London's Luton Airport was engulfed by fire. The airport says about 1,400 cars will probably be unsalvageable. That was the least-awful news this week. On Wednesday afternoon, a woman was arrested at Atlanta/Hartsfield after she stabbed three people, including an Atlanta police officer. About the same time, access to Baltimore-Washington International was blocked after an unidentified person claimed they had an explosive device. And the worst development of the week occurred late Thursday night at Philadelphia Airport. A police officer was murdered and another injured in a shooting. The suspects escaped and then dumped an 18-year-old at a nearby hospital. The teenager was pronounced dead on arrival. The getaway car was later found in New Jersey. Police are still searching for suspects.