Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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What We Know on the Road Always Changes
May 28, 2015 -- I've buckled myself into Seat 2B and put my tray tables in the upright position for a long, long time. And one thing I've learned is that the "facts" of business travel are as transitory as military intelligence. What you knew to be true last week, last month, last year is not necessarily valid data for your next road trip. Nothing changes faster than business travel.
Keep that in mind as I update you on the state of premium economy, secret flights you may not know about, airports that don't have passengers, website that don't have fares and other important tidbits about life on the road right now. Premium economy is now bulletproof — Singapore Airlines, one of the world's most-respected and admired carriers, last week fleshed out its plans to add a premium economy cabin. As I suggested last October, that guarantees the one-time "fourth class" is now a permanent part of the air-travel firmament. Singapore Air's new cabin locks in the current "minimum" standard for premium economy seats — 38 inches of legroom, 18.5-19.5 inches of width with eight inches of recline — and adds must-have amenities: a toiletries kit; a large (13.3-inch) monitor; noise-canceling headsets; at-seat power outlet; and USB ports. But Singapore Air is adding its own wrinkles: complimentary Champagne, the carrier's unique "book the cook" dining scheme and an armrest on the aisle seat that pushes down and away for easy maneuverability and more space. The first flights with the new cabin debut in August, but it'll be December before they arrive on Singapore Airlines routes to and from Los Angeles and New York. The secret isn't out yet — Sixteen month ago, I suggested that "secret flights" between two nations operated by an airline based in a third country were on the way out. Shows you what I know. Not only are flights such as Air New Zealand's Los Angeles-London service surviving, a few more are being added. TAM, the Brazilian airline, has launched a flight between New York's Kennedy Airport and Toronto's Pearson Airport. Why? It allows TAM to extend its Sao Paulo-JFK route to Canada. The reverse is true for Philippine Airlines. The carrier's transpacific nonstop between Manila and Vancouver is being extended to New York. That allows Philippine to return to the Big Apple after an absence of nearly two decades. Ironically, that will also put Philippine in competition with Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based powerhouse, which also operates a little-known flight between Kennedy and Vancouver. But what may the best of all the new secret flights begins next month when Ethiopian Airlines launches nonstops between Los Angeles and Dublin. The African airline will use a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the route, which then continues to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Say goodbye to Malaysia Airlines — Two airline disasters in four months was too much even for government-owned Malaysia Airlines to survive. A shambolic, money-losing enterprise even before the disappearance of Flight 370 in March, 2014 and the shoot down of Flight 17 over Ukraine last summer, the Malaysian government has thrown in the towel on its snakebitten carrier. A new chief executive, a German poached from Aer Lingus, has been brought in to create a new operation from the ashes of the old. Although the existing Malaysia Airlines will operate until the new carrier officially launches in the fall, the name and logo will soon change. A third of the current workforce will be terminated, aircraft such as the gargantuan Airbus A380s will be sold off, the route network will shrink dramatically and the new airline will focus on local and regional flights. In other words, don't expect to see the new Malay airline to fly to any U.S. cities. "There's very little margin for error," chief executive Christoph Mueller told Reuters last week. "It's not a continuation of the old company in a new disguise. Everything is new." Berlin's national nightmare — Just days before it was to open a 20-years-in-the-planning new airport in 2012, Berlin pulled the plug on Brandenburg Airport. At least to the naked eye, the facility looks complete and ready to handle fliers. Beneath the surface, however, there have been scandals involving fire-protection systems, cabling, pipes and generally shoddy construction. The airport's woes are a national nightmare as Germans wonder what happened to their reputation for meticulous planning, precise execution and on-schedule and on-budget operation. Following a series of missed opening dates after the aborted 2012 debut, airport officials say the 5-billion euro boondoogle will finally being serving travelers sometime in 2017. The problem with that? Airport construction permits expire in November, 2016 and a new German federal law must be passed to allow Brandenburg to skirt that technicality. That has forced airport executives to deny media speculation that the facility will never open. The fight stuff revisited — The never-ending war between airlines and travel agents has proceeded to another round. This time, it's Delta Air Lines deciding some online travel agents can't tell fliers about the carrier's fares. To be honest, the specifics of the current skirmish are irrelevant because the bottom line is, well, the bottom line: The more airlines are allowed to limit which third parties can or cannot talk about their products, services and prices, the more we travelers lose. Airlines believe they have the right to control the dissemination of their fare information. And the reason they want that right is because they want to charge less-informed fliers more money. Don't worry, be happy — Remember when the business-travel world was in a tizzy about the possibility of in-flight calling? That crisis, just 18 months ago, is much like last year's supposed Ebola epidemic: non-issues that seem silly in retrospect. There'll be plenty to worry about in the months ahead. Don't go out of your way and work yourself into a lather about something that may never happen. Concentrate on your next flight and your next business trip. The future takes care of itself.
This column is Copyright © 2015 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.