Nobody Asked Me, But ...
Covid Kabuki Edition
THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2022 -- Nobody asked me, but ...

The Easter/Passover weekend is traditionally when families sit around the table and plan a summer getaway. Take my word for it: Don't even think about using miles to go to Europe. Consider a random day, Saturday, July 16. American Airlines wants 180,000 miles one-way to fly business class from New York/Kennedy to Milan/Malpensa. United Airlines is only slightly better at 155,000 miles one-way for Chicago/O'Hare-London/Heathrow. And king of the grifters, Delta Air Lines, is demanding 375,000 miles one-way for a business class nonstop between Atlanta/Hartsfield and Paris/CDG.

If Europe is where you want to go and miles are what you want to use, do something I almost never recommend when talking miles: Wait. Things are somewhat better in the fall and much better for January and February.

Nobody asked me, but ...

I planned to write a complete column about JetBlue Airways offering to overpay ($3.6 billion) to snatch Spirit Airlines away from Frontier Airlines and scuttle the merger. And then I figured I don't need a full column to explain it: JetBlue has melted down for two consecutive weekends, cancelling up to a third of its flights, and has been forced to proactively delete as much as 10% of its schedule in May and beyond. This is not an airline, or an airline management, that can handle buying a basket-case carrier like Spirit. JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes and President Joanna Geraghty should be flushed, not allowed to buy another carrier.

And just for grins and giggles, consider this. Back in 2014, JetBlue announced it would refit its fleet of 150 Airbus A320s. The project was due to be finished in 2019. It remains incomplete three years later. Why would you believe JetBlue management when it says it plans to swiftly convert Spirit's fleet of 176 aircraft and bring them to JetBlue standards? This is an incompetent airline, living on its past laurels, looking to do something incredibly dumb. Why let it?

Nobody asked me, but ...

A reminder that we threw away $50 billion or more underwriting the airlines and hoping they wouldn't screw us when the pandemic ended. At least the first, and largest, tranche was specifically conditioned on the carriers keeping their flights running and their crews employed. Yeah, not so much. Take Delta Air Lines, for example. In 2020, before the pandemic hit, Delta employed 91,416 people. By last year, employment had fallen to 62,588. Today, Delta is at 84,324 workers. Delta isn't even embarrassed by the shortfall. During its first-quarter earnings yesterday, Delta's bosses said that they were copacetic with the shriveled workforce.

Alaska Airlines says that it will cut flying flying by about 2% until the end of June. The reason? Alaska says it has dozens fewer pilots than it needs to fly the original schedule. If only we'd paid them to keep employees on staff ...

Nobody asked me, but ...

The in-flight and travel mask mandate was extended for 15 more days this week. I think that's a mistake. But I'd have been okay with the CDC/TSA/Biden Administration extension if the mandate required higher quality N95 or KN95 masks. More than two years into this, we've figured out that cloth masks are mostly useless and disposable surgical makes have limited effectiveness. Extending the mandate without upgrading the masks seems like Covid Kabuki of the most cynical type.

And, no, the government is doing nothing to repeal or ease the testing requirement before you return to the country. In fairness, those Abbott/Emed self-tests proctored via the Internet aren't particularly costly ($30 a pop) or onerous (they require about 30 minutes all in). But I have not heard a scientific reason for continuing the tests and no one in the Biden Administration seems to be championing the end of this bit of Covid Kabuki.

Nobody asked me, but ...

InterContinental remade its loyalty/frequency program again this week and it's a lot of sound and fury signifying free breakfast--but only for top-level Diamond elites. For all the verbiage, that's basically it. Everything else is "subject to availability" or "we tell our hotels it would be nice if they do this" or "here are a few more bonus points," which are already about the least valuable in the hotel sector. Think I'm kidding? Check out the changes for yourself.

But let's give credit where credit is due: InterContinental did change the program's name again. What started as Priority Club became IHG Rewards Club, then simply IHG Rewards and now--ta-dah!--IHG One Rewards.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Would it shock you to learn that Amtrak is delaying deployment of its new Acela trainsets for another 18 months? No, I didn't think so. As the 20-plus-year existing trains show their age, Amtrak and partners claim they need more time for testing, computer modeling and certification. The first of the more than two dozen trainsets were supposed to arrive last year. Delivery was due to be complete this year. Now we're looking at the fall of 2023 before the first new one arrives.

If you want a train ride--as opposed to transportation--consider one of the 21 days in June, September and October when two vestiges of the 20th Century Limited run again. A private outfit called Hudson River Rail Excursions will operate the "Hickory Creek" and "Tavern-Lounge No.43" roundtrip from New York/Penn to Albany/Rensselaer. Both fully restored cars are from the 1948 streamlined version of the classic New York Central train that traveled between New York City and Chicago. Prices are $149 in the tavern car and $349 in the Hickory Creek, which has the famed "Lookout Lounge." Meals are included. I'm told rail geeks snap these things up quickly, so be aware tickets go on sale April 22.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Inflation sure is depressing--8.5% in March--but it's silly to make believe this is an American-specific crisis. As we come out of the pandemic, prices are skyrocketing globally. The March inflation rate in Spain was 9.8%. It was 7.3% in Germany, 7% in the United Kingdom and more than 6% in Sweden. You do still have your Gerry Ford "Whip Inflation Now" button, right?

Of course, statistics are just statistics. Let me bring home the bacon by discussing the price of bacon. Just before Christmas, I purchased a 12-ounce package of Oscar Meyer Center Cut for $6.99. When I got back from Italy in mid-January, it was selling for $8.99. It hit $10.99 in February. This week, you can buy it on sale at my local market for $5.99. If I download a "digital coupon" to my store card, I can buy one package for $3.99.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Kai Kahele, the Congressman from the Second District of Hawaii, hasn't missed a vote this year, a major change from his predecessor, Tulsi Gabbard, who was too busy running for President in 2019 and 2020 to vote much. But here is the quirk. Kahele hasn't been to Washington much, casting virtually all votes by proxy. This according to a deeply documented piece on the Honolulu Civil Beat Web site.

This might not otherwise raise an eyebrow--after all, the guy voted--except that Kahele is also a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines. An active pilot and employee, according to the airline. That does raise red flags, both ethically and legally. Stay tuned, folks.

Nobody asked me, but ...

As I've crossed into official senior citizenship, I realize I've lost a decade somewhere. No matter how hard I try, when I attempt to date things--a news event, a piece of music, a TV show, whatever--I always seem to be off by ten years. I always get the decade right, but I seem to miss the fact that said decade was ten years farther in the past than I thought. The Seventies really are 50 years ago. Yikes!

Speaking of the dim, departed past, it was two years ago today--April 14, 2020--that flying hit its Covid nadir. Just 87,534 people stepped on a flight in the United States. Yesterday, slightly more than two million flew.