Business Travel Briefing
For November 5 to 19, 2023
The briefing in brief: The flying boom in Austin seems to be over. Airlines add all sorts of new winter flights to sun destinations in Florida, Central America and the Caribbean. Denver gets two new airport lounges. Siem Reap in Cambodia gets a new airport. JetBlue slashes a raft of routes in New York and Boston. Amtrak overhauls its fare structure. Alaska Airlines adds new flights from Anchorage to New York and San Diego. A first officer is indicted for threatening to shoot his captain. And much more.

It is okay if you thought Austin was the city that could not fail with the airport that couldn't grow fast enough. After all, the Texas capital's population quadrupled since 2000 and its economy was rolling in high-tech dough. Meanwhile, Bergstrom International, the converted air force base, was bursting at its seams, handling more than 21 million passengers last year, more than triple the 2003 flyer count. But Austin is not the golden city it seems. Without public announcement, American Airlines is quietly slashing 21 routes from its Austin network, which reached 46 cities this summer. Many of the routes relied on problematic regional jets, but many operated with full-size jets like the Airbus A319. Privately, American executives explain the massive pruning in stark terms: High-yield high-tech business slowed dramatically during the pandemic and hasn't returned. The result? Lots of money-losing routes that have to go. And AA isn't alone. Virgin Atlantic Airways will end its Austin-London/Heathrow flights effective January 7, leaving British Airways as the sole provider of nonstop service to the British capital. (Norwegian Air also pulled out of Austin--it flew to London and planned to add Paris nonstops before the pandemic--but that has more to do with Norwegian's elimination of all transatlantic flying than any provable weakness in the local market.) Still, the American pullback and Virgin's withdrawal are red flags: Aviation growth, even in a "hot" town with a "cool" reputation, is never a given and rarely lasts indefinitely.

Airlines always rework their schedules to add flights to warm-weather cities in the winter, but this year brings several huge tranches of new routes to sunny climes. Here are some of the highlights:
        Alaska Airlines says it will fly to Nassau, Bahamas, from both Los Angeles and Seattle/Tacoma. The seasonal flights will operate from December 15 to April 9. It is also adding year-round flights from LAX to Guatemala City beginning December 14. Zihuatanejo, Mexico, also gets some love. Seasonal nonstops (December 23-April 6) will operate from both Chicago and San Diego.
        American Airlines is boosting Caribbean flights from its Miami hub during the winter months. There will be additional daily flights to Anguilla; Bridgetown, Barbados; St. Maarten; and Tortola, BVI. That'll increase connectivity for AA cities in the Northeast and Midwest.
        Breeze Airways has added two nonstop routes to Florida from Providence, Rhode Island. The airline is now flying Airbus A220s to Jacksonville (twice weekly) and Vero Beach (three times weekly).
        JetBlue Airways is adding flights from its New York/Kennedy hub to both Belize City and St. Kitts and Nevis. The thrice-weekly St. Kitts flights launched this week. Three weekly runs to Belize City begin December 6.
        Porter Airlines will be flying Canadians to five new places in Florida this winter: Miami, Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Flights will mostly originate at Toronto/Pearson, but there'll be service from Ottawa, too. Once-daily flights begin this month using EMB-195-E2 aircraft configured 2x2 with Porter Reserve, Porter Stretchseat and coach seats.
        WestJet is launching weekly flights from Toronto/Pearson to Bonaire beginning December 12. Also new: a weekly flight from Vancouver to Ixtapa, Mexico, starting December 22.

You'd have thought Denver International had its moment in the club lounge sun this summer when United Airlines added two new United Clubs covering nearly 60,000 square feet. But, no, Denver is fertile ground for new clubs. American Airlines has opened a new Admirals Club on Concourse C between Gates C30 and C32. The 6,000-square-foot lounge is the third in the carrier's new design with refreshed food and beverage options. (It previously opened prototype clubs in Newark and Washington/National.) The new lounge replaces the Admirals Club on Concourse A. And Plaza Premium today officially opened a common-use lounge co-branded with Capital One bank. (The club's appropriately unwieldy official name is the Plaza Premium Lounge in Partnership with Capital One.) Located on Concourse A near Gate A34, the 10,800-square-foot club offers food and beverages from Denver-area purveyors. The walk-up price is stiff ($65), but entrance is free to Cap One Venture X cardholders and some other Cap One cardholders.
        Anchorage gets another nonstop to the New York area. Alaska Airlines is launching a seasonal nonstop to Kennedy Airport that will operate between June 13 and August 19. (United Airlines already offers seasonal service to Anchorage from its Newark hub.) Alaska Air will also offer seasonal flights between Anchorage and San Diego from May 18 to August 17.
        Siem Reap, the gateway to Cambodia's famed Angkor Archaeological Complex, has opened a US$1 billion airport designed to handle seven million visitors a year. Officially named the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, the facility is 25 miles from the Angkor complex and designated SAI. It replaces 90-year-old Siem Reap International (REP).

JetBlue Airways is losing money--and smarting from the loss of the Northeast Alliance with American Airlines. The result? Fairly substantial route cuts in Boston and New York, the focus cities of the alliance. Over the next few months, JetBlue ends all flights at Burlington, Vermont, and drops more than a dozen other routes. Among the most notable cuts: JFK-Washington/National, a route JetBlue just launched in September. Also going: Boston/Logan-Newark; Newark-Miami; and all flights from New York/LaGuardia to Nashville, Charleston and Portland, Maine.
        Amtrak has overhauled its fare structure. The railroad claims that there are now just two fares: nonrefundable "value" and changeable "flex." But there are a myriad of wrinkles in those categories. In fairness, however, the lowest-priced value fares are notably inexpensive. One example: Rides between New York/Penn and Philadelphia/30th Street can be purchased for as little as $19 one-way.
        United Airlines has dropped seasonal flights between its Washington/Dulles hub and Berlin. The summer service will not return next year.

I have an opinion on everything travel, but I simply cannot comment on--or even fathom--what is happening on the nation's flight decks. Just a few days after we learned a deadheading Horizon Air pilot tried to take down a plane, we're that informed a Delta Air Lines first officer has been indicted for threatening to shoot the captain of his flight. Moreover, we learn the indicted co-pilot is an anti-vaxxer who unsuccessfully sued the Air Force all the way to the Supreme Court.