Tales From the Road,
Some Good, Some Bad
THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2022 -- We all love a good travel story, right? We're always steeled for a bad travel story because we know the rules of the road.

This week I can offer both. Your mileage will vary, so I l leave it to you to decide which are the good stories and which are the bad ones ...

Airlines treat us like garbage, of course, but there are gradations of trash. Consider United Airlines and its distribution of United Clubs, its network of pay-to-play airport lounges. At its Chicago/O'Hare hub, United carried 14 million flyers in the last year and United Club members had a choice of four lounges. At its Houston/Intercontinental hub, United carried 13 million flyers and Club members could choose from five lounges. Then, of course, there is Newark. United carried 12.2 million flyers there, yet Club members had to make do with one small lounge and one tiny pop-up Club in the main terminal and a United Club in a terminal that few United flyers actually use.

This awful situation was the topic of a memorable screed by David Danto. As a mostly domestic flyer at Newark, Danto naturally resented the airline's 2016 decision to close and then repurpose United's best United Club as a Polaris Lounge, which is only available to international business class travelers. I was a little more sanguine about United's decision. Virtually all of my flying with United out of Newark is in international business class, so I was a beneficiary of the airline's strategy, which Danto called "robbing Peter to pay Polaris."

It's taken many years for United to end the nightmare for flyers like Danto, but the carrier today opened a 30,000-square-foot United Club complete with nearly 500 seats, a "barista-staffed coffee shop" and six shower suites. It's the largest club in the system and should go a long way toward ending the nightmare that was the standard at Newark. But let's wait to hear what Danto--who, ironically, just returned from a business trip to Barcelona--has to say about the new United Club. Just cut him a break. He and far too many United Newark flyers have a lot of pent-up anger and high expectations.

You know that JetBlue Airways has been trying to spirit Spirit Airlines away from its merger deal with Frontier Airlines. JetBlue's initial approach was ostensibly friendly, offering Spirit around $33 a share. Spirit's management and board of directors said no, pithily pointing out that JetBlue's offer was not only dumb, but will almost surely run afoul of regulators, who are already reexamining the JetBlue-American Northeast Alliance.

But JetBlue, which hasn't been a particularly good airline for years and is managed by a motley crew of self-involved wannabe SkyGods, won't take no for an answer. On Monday, it launched a hostile takeover bid with typical airline panache: The hostile tender is actually lower ($30 a share) than the friendly bid. Because airlines always offer less and tell you that you're lucky to get what you get.

Spirit, hardly an airline to admire, today had no trouble saying no to the lower tender offer and urging shareholders to do the same. JetBlue promptly responded exactly as you'd expect an airline to react: It pissed and moaned and called everyone who disagreed stupid.

This shouldn't make us feel better, of course, but it least it shows that the airlines act crappily to each other, not just to us.

When you scratch my business travel surface, you find a public-transit guy. Cars and planes may define your life, but city metros and commuter rail systems define mine. So you can imagine my excitement with London's decision to finally open The Elizabeth Line next week. You remember the Elizabeth Line, right? It's the official name of the long-delayed and obscenely over-budget Crossrail, a massive project conceived decades ago to prove that England hadn't lost its mojo.

The east-west system, which features 26 miles of tunnels under London, has beautiful trainsets, lovely stations and a new take on urban transportation. Plus, c'mon, how can you not love the fact that 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth made a public appearance at Paddington Station this week to see the new system that carries her name?

Unfortunately, it won't all be beer and skittles. The Elizabeth Line should have offered some genuine competition to the wickedly overpriced Heathrow Express between Paddington and Heathrow. But London transport officials are slapping a Heathrow surcharge on tickets if you use the Elizabeth Line to the airport. Riding Crossrail to Heathrow will be cheaper than the Heathrow Express, but not nearly as inexpensive as riding the existing Tube lines to the airport.

This should have been a red-letter week for rail fans for another reason, too. Hong Kong opened a long-delayed extension to its super-efficient MTR system. But I have no confidence that I'll ever see Hong Kong again. Between the hostile Chinese government takeover of Hong Kong and the city's continuing Covid lockdown, I weep for one of my favorite cities.

Unite Here, the union representing many of the nation's hotel housekeepers, wants guests to demand daily housekeeping. Hotel owners, of course, have been eliminating "in stay" housekeeping as a cost-cutting measure. And as Helen Anders reminded us even before the pandemic began, this is about money, not Coronavirus necessity.

The self-interest of hotel owners is obvious. Unite Here's self-interest is equally obvious. But the union has a point: Rooms that aren't cleaned daily simply are not as clean as guest accommodations that are sanitized each day they are in use. Why? Because hotel owners never cared about deep-cleaning their rooms, something the late Michael Matthews explained to us by the numbers almost 20 years ago.

Finally, United Airlines has launched a new advertising campaign, claiming that it is a force for good. The campaign is ludicrous, insulting, absurd and, even by United Airlines' low standards, claptrap of the first order.

But I won't write about this again. I wrote about insulting United advertising campaigns 20 years ago. Only the pictures and the voiceover have changed. And if you have cookies and Goldfish crackers to toss at the screen when the ad appears, do what those United Red Carpet Club members did 20 years ago ...