Business Travel Briefing
For December 3 to 17, 2023
The briefing in brief: Be wary of a major Christmas meltdown in the skies after an exemplary Thanksgiving season. Hyatt mostly improves perks for elite and super-elite travelers. United will extend elite status for frequent Israel flyers. Porter and Air Transat hope to break the Air Canada/WestJet duopoly in Canada's skies. The TSA says it will test self-service checkpoint screening. American says it'll outfit 500 regional jets with in-flight WiFi. And much more.

More than 29 million people flowed through the nation's airports during the 10-day Thanksgiving holiday (November 17-28) and things went surprisingly well. TSA checkpoints were crowded, but generally moved quickly. Thanks to mostly advantageous weather, flight delays weren't high. And U.S. carriers are cheering about their exceptionally low cancellation rates. Now the darkness after the joy: Airline insiders are worried that the carriers are ripe for a fall over the end-of-year holiday period. Faced with the traditional end-of-year triple whammy--flight crews reaching their monthly and annual duty-time limits and employees taking their own holidays--airlines may not have the resources they need to operate smoothly near the end of the month. "We pulled out all the stops to keep running over Thanksgiving," one carrier's top operations executive told me this week. "It wouldn't take much bad weather or [an FAA] glitch to create a crisis over Christmas/New Year. We don't have any reserves. There's nothing in the tanks." If you recall, that's exactly what happened last year: Airlines performed well over Thanksgiving, only to collapse in the face of Christmas crowds and bad weather. Bottom line: Plan carefully if you're looking toward a holiday getaway. Things could get ugly fast.

The World of Hyatt program has the smallest geographic footprint among the major chains, but it generally offers the best elite- and super-elite benefits. And there is mostly happy news for Hyatt elites: A benefits shuffle will improve what you'll receive for your loyalty in 2024. The unique Guest of Honor (GoH) scheme, which allows top-level Globalists to gift their status perks when they gift awards, will be more widely available next year. When you hit 40 stays, you'll be able to give yourself Globalist status on a stay of as long as seven nights. You'll also earn additional Guest of Honor opportunities the more frequently you stay. And while Hyatt is eliminating unlimited Guest of Honor (GoH) grants for Globalists in 2024--you'll now only receive three when you reach the top tier--existing Globalists will get five GoH certificates next year. Lifetime Globalists will receive five certificates every year, too. Other elite benefits improvements are explained here.
        United Airlines says some frequent travelers to/from Israel will have their MileagePlus elite status extended through January 31, 2025. If you're in the pool of flyers that United identified for the status extension, you should have been notified last week. If not, check with United to see if you qualify. Like Delta, American and most other major global carriers, United suspended service to/from Israel after the outbreak of the current hostilities.
        Avios points, the common currency used by the frequency programs operated by the IAG Group carriers (British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus), will eventually be combined into a single balance. At the moment, each carrier maintains a separate balance and transferring points between programs is laborious. That's the good news. The bad news: IAG executives didn't give a firm timeline for the new approach. There's also no word whether the combination will include carriers such as Qatar Airways and Finnair, airlines that also use Avios as their currency.

WestJet has executed a tactical retreat from several Eastern cities, so Canada's skies have settled into a duopoly that works for the airlines but is raising fares. With its primary hubs at Toronto/Pearson and Montreal, Air Canada has a near-stranglehold on travelers in the East. WestJet, primarily hubbed in Calgary, is the bigger player in the Western provinces. But two of Canada's smaller carriers, Toronto-based Porter Airlines and Montreal-based Air Transat, are joining forces in hopes of disrupting the duopoly. The airlines announced this week that they'll form a joint venture that aims to fuse Porter's shorter-haul network with Air Transat's mostly international system. If approved by relevant regulatory bodies, the two airlines will be able to coordinate routes, schedules and fares across their respective networks. Including international routes, the two airlines jointly control about 10% of Canada's traffic. Air Canada, aligned with the Star Alliance, is Canada's largest airline and commands north of 40% of the market. WestJet, which is tightening its cooperation with Delta Air Lines, has about 25% of Canada's traffic. That still leaves a Porter-Air Transat tie-up a distant third, but the two airlines are convinced they can better their competitive position with the joint venture. The two carriers already code-share and hope for regulatory approval sometime next year. Stay tuned.

It won't surprise you that towels and bathrobes are the items sticky-fingered travelers are most likely to swipe from hotel rooms. But batteries? Artwork? Lamps? Here's a list of what gets swiped--and what many nationalities of travelers prefer to steal. ... The TSA has never seen a goofy (and costly) technology it hasn't tried to use at airport security checkpoints. The agency's latest high-tech rabbit hole? Self-service screening, which will be tested in Las Vegas. ... It's been decades since United Airlines flew a new type of Airbus aircraft. But the carrier has purchased a slew of Airbus A321neos and the first one has gone into commercial service. Here's a first look inside. ... A teenage girl who claims she discovered a camera in an aircraft lavatory is suing American Airlines. ... What is it like to train as an air marshal? "You're in a metal tube surrounded by 200-plus unknown people, traveling 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet in the air," one explains. ... The FAA is pushing back against a long piece in The New York Times detailing "an exhausted and demoralized work force" of air traffic controllers.

It was only 18 months or so ago that incoming American Airlines boss Robert Isom urged employees not to "spend a dollar more than we need to." Now chief executive, Isom has finally decided that American needs to spend money on in-flight WiFi. Beginning next year, American says it'll outfit about 500 of its two-class regional jets with Internet capability.
        Etihad Airways says it'll resume flying double-decked Airbus A380s on one of its two daily nonstops between its Abu Dhabi hub and New York/Kennedy. Those are the jets outfitted with Etihad's First Apartments and The Residence. The A380 returns next spring.
        Norse Atlantic is learning exactly how hard it is for discount carriers to keep transatlantic flights in the air during the slow winter months. The airline is quietly dropping two routes--Los Angeles-Paris/CDG and New York/JFK-London/Gatwick--from mid-January through mid-March.