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Sharpen the Snark: The Week That Was
Thursday, February 8, 2018 -- So this happened since last we met: The Dow plunged 1,000+ points. Twice. The NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers traded half its team. The Olympics started. The White House had another scandal or two. There was a decent Super Bowl game and some good commercials. The government shut down again. And some things happened in business travel.
The newsy business travel stuff is in Tactical Traveler, of course. But the stuff below? Well, you know, sometimes you just need to sharpen the snark ...
UNITED IS HOPELESS. REALLY.
It's hard to keep writing about United Airlines because, let's be honest, even the truth gets boring. That said, it continues to be astonishing to watch this spewer of stupidity. Remember a couple of weeks ago when United took the pipe on the market due to its universally panned 2018 expansion plan? It's gotten much worse. Even with this week's market gyrations, United remains steadily on the down slope. It closed today at $63.37 a share, down nearly 19 percent in two weeks. Operational results in January were awful, with seat capacity growing at about twice the rate of new passenger traffic. Yet United thinks adding dozens of new small regional jets, the least efficient and most costly aircraft to operate, somehow will make 2018 better. And while they're at it, United management is shuffling aircraft on dozens of international routes at the start of the "summer" schedule on March 24. What does that mean? Many of your seat assignments will change on any international flight you've already booked. Check your itineraries, folks.
FOOL BELGIUM ONCE, FOOL BELGIUM TWICE ...
Belgium once had a perfectly nice airline called Sabena that connected Brussels with Europe, the United States and Africa. Over the decades, Sabena and the Belgian government rebuffed a buy-out from SAS and foiled minority investments from British Airways and Air France. But eventually Belgium allowed Sabena to be gobbled up by Swissair. An awful expansion strategy destroyed Swissair and took Sabena down with it. Both carriers stopped flying soon after 9/11. Panicky Belgian investors managed to revive a piece of Sabena, named it SN Brussels--SN was Sabena's two-letter code--and ensured that it was the surviving carrier in a merger with Virgin Europe. But the small carrier, renamed Brussels Airlines, finally was sold in pieces over the last decade to Lufthansa. Since Lufthansa took total control in 2016, however, Belgians have been increasingly unhappy with the German carrier's management. Now they're in open revolt after Lufthansa installed its own executive team and confirmed plans to merge Brussels Airlines into Eurowings. Oh, by the way, Lufthansa also owns Swiss International, the successor to Swissair.
AMTRAK WANTS YOU TO HAVE A GOOD SEAT FOR THE NEXT DISASTER
Amtrak has had a couple of miserable months. This week alone, an Acela train separated while traveling at about 125 miles per hour. And two people were killed and more than 100 hurt in the South Carolina crash. These incidents happened after last month's GOP charter accident near Charlottesville, Virginia, and the awful December derailment in Washington State. But Amtrak wants you to know it's taking action. You can now choose your first class seat on select Acela Express runs.
WHAT'S THE ARABIC WORD FOR PYRRHIC?
You do not need to be told that the U.S. airlines have been trying to squash the Gulf carriers and the battle-within-a-battle between Delta Air Lines and Qatar Airways is particularly nasty. So it was fascinating to hear Delta declare victory last week after a totally meaningless agreement between the United States and Qatar. The deal ensures that Qatar Airways will be more up front about its government funding. (Of course, Qatar Airways is owned by the state and the state is basically a subsidiary of the ruling al-Thani family, so what are you expecting?) It also confirms that Qatar Airways won't launch any flights to Europe or Africa via fifth-freedom rights, industry jargon for service that operates from the United States to Qatar via a third country. (o matter that Qatar Airways hasn't done fifth-freedom flying in a decade and even then only because it didn't have aircraft that could fly nonstop to Doha.
BA THINKS THIS INTERNET THING MIGHT BE REAL
Fifteen years ago, I was on the first British Airways Internet proving flight. I say Internet because it wasn't WiFi, you had to plug an RJ-45 cable into your armrest. (I told some of the tale here.) After what must have been deep consultation and epic resistance from BA executives who thought the Internet thing was a fad, BA now has one plane in service with WiFi. BA is belatedly getting around to WiFi "to benefit its customers with more choice and quality," explains BA executive Carolina Martinoli. Even after 15 years, however, you won't get a lot of BA WiFi. It'll take two years to wire the long-haul fleet and there is no word when shorter-haul planes will get WiFi. 'Cause, you know, this thing might still be a fad ...
WE WON'T ALWAYS HAVE PARIS
About five inches of snow fell in Paris on Tuesday. Roads were jammed, railroads ground to a halt and the city's airports suffered massive delays and cancellations. The Eiffel Tower was closed Tuesday and isn't expected to open again until Sunday.
OKAY, THEN ...
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the folks who handle entry formalities when we return to the United States, has been pulling agents from airport duty. Why? There's a severe shortage of agents in Arizona and other states bordering Mexico. Why? CBP is understaffed by about 3,700 agents and the agency is being pressed by the Trump Administration to prioritize the Mexican border. Bottom line: You'll spend a lot more time on Customs lines at the airport--or get Global Entry.
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