The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
And Then the Airlines Did This ...
October 8, 2015 -- Even when I'm writing several columns a week, the rush of business travel news is ferocious. I literally have trouble keeping up. So you can imagine how difficult it is to keep you up to speed with the trend stories or follow up on things that were "news" a few months ago but have fallen off the radar now.

So consider this a good-faith effort to play catch-up. I could write a separate column on each of these items. But time and space conspire against us. So let's get right to it and you'll learn more about Tel Aviv and Tokyo, the battle between Delta and American and how two airlines are fighting back against a much-larger competitor.

American Airlines bailed on flights to Tel Aviv this summer under circumstances no one fully understands. And no one believes American's claims that it was a strictly financial decision, not even American's competitors. Hence while American is pulling out, others are piling in. Delta Air Lines announced last month that next spring it would add four more weekly Tel Aviv flights from its New York/Kennedy hub. It already flies daily on the route. And United Airlines said today that it would pioneer a route between its San Francisco hub and Tel Aviv. The service is due to start on March 30 with three weekly flights. The plane of choice? Boeing 787 Dreamliners. United already flies twice daily to Tel Aviv from its Newark hub, of course. United's SFO-TLV flights will take about 14 hours eastbound and 15 hours westbound.

The rapid expansion of the three Gulf carriers--Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways--has the legacy U.S. carriers frothing at the mouth. And Canada has been brazenly protecting Air Canada by limiting the number of flights that the Gulf carriers can operate to and from Canadian airports. So how are the Gulf airlines filling their flights? With tactical alliances such as the one Emirates and Alaska Airlines have forged in Seattle. As you surely know, Delta has mounted a full-on assault against its one-time close partner Alaska at Sea-Tac. So it's no surprise that Alaska has responded by cozying up to Emirates, which now operates two daily flights to Dubai from Sea-Tac. What you might not know is exactly how powerful the not-quite-code-share arrangement is. About a third of Emirates' customers at Sea-Tac are fed to the carrier by Alaska Airlines service. Among the big connecting cities? Portland and Boise. Also important are two Canadian cities, Vancouver and Calgary. "By teaming up, we really believe we are offering customers good alternatives, especially compared to Delta," explains Mattias Schmid, Emirates' vice president of sales.

Cathay Pacific, which everyone rates among the best airlines in the world, has had a change of leadership in North America. Philippe Lacamp took over as senior vice president five weeks ago and it's something of a homecoming. The British born and educated Lacamp was based in Canada for Cathay Pacific between 2004 and 2008. And his focus now that he's in charge of all of North America? Making sure Cathay is as good here as it is in its hometown of Hong Kong. "We pride ourselves on the delivery of service. We've set a benchmark in Hong Kong and we don't want to be sub-optimal in North America," he told me. Besides, he said, "we are not a low-cost operation. We'll lose if we are viewed as a commodity airline." Where does Lecamp think Cathay can improve? For one thing, bringing its airport lounges in the United States and Canada up to the standards Cathay maintains in Asia. That explains the expansion of its four-year-old San Francisco lounge. Due for completion at the end of the month, the SFO club will jump to more than 9,000 square feet compared to its current size of around 5,500 square feet. New features include a self-service deli counter, an espresso bar manned by a dedicated barista and three more shower suites. Also on tap: a new lounge in Vancouver, where Cathay's current lounge isn't on par with some of its best airport clubs. The new YVR location is due in the spring. At Kennedy Airport, where Cathay uses the lounge of its Oneworld partner British Airways, Lecamp says he's "looking for opportunities."

As I explained earlier this year, Haneda Airport near Tokyo is something of an albatross for U.S. airlines. The close-in airport should be rip-roaringly popular among U.S. flyers headed to the Japanese capital, but the take-off and landing slots assigned to U.S. airlines are generally awful. Which explains why American Airlines abandoned its New York/JFK-Haneda route several years ago. And why Delta all but abandoned its Seattle-Haneda route over the winter. That latter move drew Transportation Department scrutiny, however, and the agency demanded Delta fly the route every day year-round or give it up. Delta got huffy and walked away. That meant American had the "back-up authority" to take over the Haneda slots and fly a route from Los Angeles. In fact, American was required to start the route in 60 days and promised to do so. But guess what? It hasn't. So now Delta wants the slots taken away from American. What happens next is anyone's guess.

This column is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.