Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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Take a Trip Back to a Business Travel Future
August 18, 2016 -- I've been covering the exigencies of business travel since forever and I've flown in almost everything and stayed in nearly everything sold to business travelers. One thing I've missed: a time machine.
Not my fault, of course. There are no DeLoreans with flux capacitors available on the car-rental lots. No aircraft currently in service can execute the Starship Enterprise's slingshot effect. And hotels that promise you can "step back in time" always seem to be making excuses for their lousy beds, tiny rooms, crummy showers and wonky HVAC systems
So I offer this column as a poor substitute. It's a journey back in time and updates you on some important topics we've covered during the nearly ten years I've been sitting in Seat 2B.
Although United has added a few cities to its LAX route map lately, gone are a half-dozen runs to Mexico and Latin America, nearly a dozen intra-California routes and transcontinental flights to Philadelphia and New York's Kennedy Airport. In contrast, American has grown to 225 daily LAX flights, including several new routes to Asia. American is also juggling its LAX terminals to add two new departure gates. Meanwhile, Delta has grown to 175 daily flights and committed to a $1.9 billion LAX construction project. Over the next few years, it'll move to a connected complex at Terminals 2 and 3.
Meanwhile, American has parlayed its strength at LAX to keep its transcon service percolating. Its specially configured Airbus A321T aircraft have first class cabins, something United and Delta do not offer. That plays especially well in Hollywood. And the Los Angeles Times last week revealed that American solicits input from Hollywood's transcon elite about in-flight menus and new routes.
Yet nothing has transformed the transcon as much as Mint, JetBlue's unconventional business class. Its seatbeds are spacious and comfortable, the small-plate meal service is genuinely inventive and pricing is aggressive low. Mint has been so successful that JetBlue has expanded it to transcontinental flights from Boston and Fort Lauderdale and even offers the concept on some routes to the Caribbean.
United at last
But Munoz can now say United Airlines is truly United. He negotiated a deal with flight attendants and, last week, they narrowly approved the contract. That matters because it will be the first time since the merger that all of United's cabin crews will work under the same rules. So now we'll finally get a sense of whether Munoz can revive the carrier. Meanwhile, United escaped criminal charges in the bribery case that led to Smisek's departure. The New Jersey bureaucrat who demanded the bribe — a special flight to take him to his weekend home in South Carolina from Newark — is scheduled to be sentenced in December.
No more trophies
Want another example? Xiamen Airlines, also unknown on this side of the Pacific, launches its first U.S. flights in September with runs between Fujian province and Seattle. It expects to fly to New York by the end of the year. But Chinese carriers aren't alone. Although American and Delta have limited their China routes to Beijing and Shanghai, United Airlines has aggressively pushed into the heart of the country. It launched flights to Xi'an in May and Hangzhou last month. It's also the only U.S. carrier flying to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.