Business Travel Briefing
For December 24 to 31, 2023
The briefing in brief: The DOT says your time and troubles for airline delays and cancellations are worth just $17.50. Nonstops between the United States and Romania will return next year. Air Canada will fly to Charleston and WestJet will launch a Calgary-Seoul nonstop. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich skewers airlines with a witty video. Passport processing times have returned to normal, the State Department says. And more.

Last Christmas, Southwest Airlines melted down to the tarmac and cancelled or heavily delayed around two million passengers. A year later, the Transportation Department has finally released its penalty and you can blow us over with a boarding pass. That's how inconsequential the fine and other actions are. I know you heard a much larger figure--140 MILLION DOLLARS! as Doctor Evil might excitedly say--when the DOT action was announced Monday (December 18). But the hard-dollar number is nothing like that. The cash outlay demanded by the DOT is just $35 million. All of the rest is erased by forgiveness for Southwest's previously offered make-goods to passengers and a fund that the airline will establish in case of future problems. The big problem with the DOT-ordered contingency fund? It will guarantee you only a $75 voucher if Southwest screws up again. That is substantially less than Southwest itself paid most passengers caught in the 2022 meltdown. Worst of all, that $35 million in real-dollar penalties works out to just $17.50 a passenger. In other words, the DOT bureaucrats think all your cancelled flights and hours of delays are worth less than a double sawbuck.

Two decades after Romanian flag carrier TAROM abandoned its last U.S. route and around 15 years since a U.S. airline tried service to Bucharest, nonstop flights between the United States and Romania may get back on the global route map. HiSky, a three-year-old carrier based both in Romania and Moldova, says it'll launch four weekly flights between New York/Kennedy and Bucharest beginning on June 7. The airline says the 10-hour nonstops will operate with a leased Airbus A330-200 configured with 39 seats in business class and 206 seats in coach. HiSky already has approval from the Transportation Department to fly to the United States. Stay tuned.
        WestJet says it will fly between its Calgary hub and Seoul beginning on May 17. Three weekly flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners will be used on the route.
        Norse Atlantic Airways says it'll launch spring and summer flights between New York/JFK and Athens, Greece. The nonstop route will operate from May 30 to October 26.

Fast-growing Charleston International in South Carolina is emerging as a hub for Breeze Airways, David Neeleman's money-gushing start-up. But the airport is winning established carriers, too. Air Canada says it will launch daily roundtrip flights from its Toronto/Pearson hub on March 28.
        Salt Lake City, a fortress hub controlled by Delta Air Lines, is nevertheless picking up service from a new carrier. Hawaiian Airlines says that it will launch daily flights to Honolulu. Service begins May 15 using narrowbody Airbus A321neo aircraft.
        Tulsa International gets its second on-airport hotel. A 103-room Home2 Suites, a Hilton brand, has opened just off Airport Drive.

You may quibble with some of his facts and question a few of his conclusions, but former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offers a succinct--and surprisingly witty--video analysis of modern-day flying. He also compares the parlous state of commercial aviation to the woes of other highly concentrated American industries. ... Does the term "ghost bagging" mean anything to you? It didn't to me. WSMV-TV in Nashville explains the term and the related baggage scam. ... The longest-running hotel in the District of Columbia has closed and few mourn its demise. The once-elegant, 109-year-old Hotel Harrington was cheap, however, and quite close to the White House. ... Speaking of less-than-reputable lodgings, the son of a California Airbnb host was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for filming guests as they exited the shower. Meanwhile, a Cleveland man was hit with a two-year jail term after he used a co-worker's card key to enter her room. The card was issued by the hotel's oblivious front desk.

Four more airlines have joined the TSA PreCheck security bypass program. Most notable: Norse Atlantic, the transatlantic discounter, and Skylux Airlines, the luxury carrier based in Taiwan. More than 90 domestic and international airlines offer PreCheck although some important carriers, notably Iberia, do not.
        Virgin Hotels has lost its Glasgow property. That's noteworthy because the 240-room Virgin Glasgow only opened four months ago. The property owner went into administration, the European version of bankruptcy, earlier in December.
        Passport processing times have returned to bureaucratic normal, according to the U.S. State Department. It now promises standard service in 6-8 weeks and "expedited" turnaround in 2-3 weeks.