The Daily Flyer
Welcome to the ninth edition of “The Daily Flyer,” The Higher Flyer‘s newsletter that gathers up and summarizes some of the day’s most important travel-related happenings. Today, May 20, 2020, we’re venturing out of our coronavirus slumber (it’s been two months!) to cover the measures airlines and hotels are taking to prepare for the post-outbreak “return-to-normalcy,” and the hurdles that some must clear to get there. Read further for coverage on a potentially interesting service concept from Delta, a guide to aspirational hotels worth visiting after this is all said and done, and the story of a single man living in a massive luxury hotel.
Before we go further, today marks an exciting administrative development: The Higher Flyer‘s new domain, TheHigherFlyer.com, takes effect! Nothing about the website has changed — the “.org” is still functional, although if you navigate to one of those links you’ll automatically be rerouted to the “.com” equivalent — but it’s quite nice to have the “more-traditional” URL.
The Headline Feature
The 2020 COVID-19 outbreak is positioned to wreak long lasting havoc on the travel industry. Indeed, some carriers like Colombian flag-bearer Avianca and the UK’s FlyBe have already succumbed to the unfavorable conditions, and it’s clear that things’ll probably get worse before they get better. The past dozen weeks have been absolutely devastating for everyone — no airlines or hotels have been spared from cratering demand and, in turn, bottom lines — and it seems that more bad news is following. The famed low cost Norwegian Air is going broke, South African Airways is not far behind it (despite one man trying his best), Richard Branson wants to sell his stakes in Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia because they’re failing too, and Thai Airways is being “rehabilitated” by a bankruptcy court. Ouch.
Even more established legacy carriers are running in to trouble. Lufthansa toyed with the idea of bankruptcy before it received a government bailout, British Airways might lay off 12,000 employees and pull out of London’s second largest airport (Gatwick), and United States-based airlines, having been recently rescued themselves, are merely delaying the inevitable that their counterparts face now. United has been particularly candid about its struggles, revealing losses of $2.1 billion in Q1 2020 and all but announcing a Fall downsizing. Meanwhile its domestic rivals American and Delta are frantically retiring their older planes to cut capacity and minimize expenses.
The doom, gloom, and austerity may not have to last very long though. The always excellent Skift recently published an article entitled “Learning to Walk Again: 22 Hopeful Signs for Reopening the Travel Economy.” In it, author Rafat Ali hyperlinks to positive developments, including the reopening of Shanghai Disney and its subsequent sell out, the formation of “travel bubbles” in Asia and Oceania, European countries — including hard-hit Spain — working to reopen for the summer high season, and, most shockingly, a plan to restart tourism in global epicenter New York City. Ben at One Mile At A Time further added that, per the TSA, there’s routinely more than 250,000 travelers per day and, for better or for worse, flights are filling up. If you’re feeling down about the state of affairs, any and all of these are worth your read.
These positive trends are encouraging, but there’s a fundamental issue that warrants some consideration: there’s no guarantee that people will travel like they used to. Hosting meetings and working remotely is easier than ever now — jobs probably won’t require employees to leave town for work as frequently — and until there’s a vaccine, passengers appear unwilling to cram in to the not-so-friendly confines of an aircraft’s fuselage (at least without putting up a fight). Demand for airfares could, for the long term, be significantly lower than it was prior to the coronavirus outbreak. For many of the industry’s players, they’re banking on a true, one-to-one return to normalcy. Having such faith could spell financial troubles later on.
These businesses aren’t stupid though, and many have prepared contingency plans designed to keep their once-regular customers engaged while they weather this storm. For example, pretty much every major hotel chain and airline based in the United States has either extended validity of elite status, reduced requirements to qualify for it, or both. There are numerous ongoing fare sales that encourage travel later in the year and/or in early 2021, and some companies are selling gift cards and points at steep discounts. Air Canada has offered some particularly lucrative specials. Higher flyers rejoice? Well, that’s what the corporations are hoping for until more customers can come back. They’re getting to the point where they’re running out of options…
From The Higher Flyer
It’s been a while since the last “Daily Flyer” — there’s only so much to write about when everything is shut down, and who wants to endlessly repeat the doom and gloom of the current news cycle? — and in that time, The Higher Flyer has published…
This review covers a flight that was operated by a plane that AA has since retired from its fleet — the Embraer E-190 — but the content is still relevant given how consistent first class products are on shuttle routes. With such little in-air time, there’s a limit to how good the service can be, but American still delivers something worthwhile.
Two days after this review was published, American Airlines announced that it was retiring all of its 767s (along with the aforementioned Embraer E-190s). The timing of this release is terrible, but that’s okay. While not very many readers will get useful information from this, it’s still an interesting look at the more-mediocre side of AA.
I had mixed feelings about AA’s international business class offering onboard its 767s. The experience collectively was fine, but the cost of the fare was not; this essay explores how prices influence higher flying. The thesis is that while a lie-flat seat is great in any circumstance (and far better than anything in economy), breaking the bank to get one is seldom worth it.
Cathay Pacific’s premium economy product is simultaenously excellent AND underwhelming. It’s also kind of expensive. The hard product couldn’t be better and it’s worth the premium over a standard seat, but the soft product is no better than what you’d get in economy.
Madrid’s airport is the second largest in Europe by surface area — trailing only Paris’s Charles de Gaulle — and the sprawl of it can be overwhelming. As I recount in this entry in the “Another Weekend to Europe” trip report, there’s a lot of walking involved.
- “Stillness in Washington” from March 27
- “Oh, the White House…” from April 3
- “Reaching new heights of social distancing” from April 10
- “Back to Life” from April 17
- “Waiting for Life” from April 24
- “Back to Boston Baseball” from May 1
- “‘There is no darkness but ignorance’” from May 8
- “Darkness falls on Washington” from May 15
Many of these photos were shot in the United States, although some are from Hong Kong, Bangkok, and London. The pictures themselves are cool (if I do say so myself), and the brief, customary write ups offer some commentary on the state of affairs. Interpret that as you will.
Other developments, discussions, and articles in higher flying
1. Rumor: Delta will install all-Delta One configurations on select planes
After announcing that it’s planning to retire all of its Boeing 777s before the end of 2020, Delta now has a surplus of 550 premium suites (with doors). They’re relatively new and in good condition — it’d be foolish/costly to throw them away — and the airline is looking for ways to reuse them. One potential idea: completely reconfiguring smaller aircraft with them.
This is a novel concept but not an original one. Singapore Airlines used to fly an all-business class A340-500 to Newark. Now, on the same route, it relies on an A350-900 ULR with a cabin that’s about 75 percent business and 25 percent premium economy; there’s no standard economy to be found. Elsewhere, British Airways famously flies a 32-seat Airbus A318 outfitted exclusively with lie-flat seats between London City Airport and New York JFK.
The closest thing in North America would be United Airlines’s premium-heavy 767s. Perhaps Delta will take something like this one step further, but like any rumor, we’ll just have to wait and see…
2. “19 hotel views you’ll want to see for yourself”
As we all patiently wait to get back on the road — responsible as these travel restrictions are, they’re brutal to wait through — it’s only natural to dream about the next adventures. If you need inspiration or something to distract you from your home-life, The Points Guy (or rather an author writing for TPG) has compiled a list of 19 hotels with exceptional views. Their nightly rates are all pretty expensive, but as you would expect from the website’s name, most of these are attainable with award points. I’ve stayed at only one of these properties, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, and, well…
…It’s a pretty incredible place! Time to make plans for the other 18…
3. “Just One Person Has Been Living In The W Barcelona”
The New York Times has a fun, if not intriguing story about Daniel Ordoñez, the director of maintenance at the W Hotel Barcelona. The property is shuttered in accordance with the ongoing lockdown across Spain, but the massive, 27-story building still requires upkeep. Enter Ordoñez, who voluntarily agreed to self-isolate in a room on the 24th floor for an indefinite period of time. He’s been there for eight weeks now.
His duties are otherwise the same, although he doesn’t have to respond to guests’ complaints (because there are none), and now he has to turn on each water faucet so that way bacteria doesn’t grow in the pipes. He’s also taken on some more amusing, uplifting projects…
For someone who has been living alone and doing laundry with industrial grade appliances, Ordoñez seems to be in good spirits. For his sake though, I hope he can go home soon!
Got any tips? Questions? Comments? Email anything and everything to Paul@TheHigherFlyer.com, or comment below! In the meantime, thanks for reading, fly higher, and see you… when we see you! It all depends on when things go back to normal…
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