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Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,168 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: Vacationers are king

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coach passenger is king — perhaps for the first time ever — as airlines scramble for a larger share of the booming leisure travel market, Joann Muller writes.

What's happening: As the pandemic wanes, major carriers that traditionally make most of their money off premium business travel have shifted their attention to wooing vacationers.

  • Meanwhile, discount carriers famous for selling cheap seats to popular destinations are beefing up to defend their turf.
  • The winners: consumers itching to visit family and friends, or explore the country, after being stuck at home for two years.

Driving the news: Spirit Airlines and Frontier Group are merging in a $2.9 billion deal that will create the fifth-largest U.S. airline.

  • The two carriers are known for their rock-bottom prices and no-frills service — not to mention consumer complaints about add-ons for everything from reserved seats to carry-on baggage and snacks.

The combination of the country's two largest budget carriers will help them compete against American, Delta, United and Southwest, which together control about 80% of the U.S. air travel market.

  • Rather than layoffs, the companies said they expect to hire another 10,000 workers by 2026, on top of their existing 15,000 employees combined.

The merger could have far-reaching consequences by promoting lower fares for leisure travel, industry experts say.

  • "You'll see a shift in how they compete for those clients and that could be a good thing for leisure travelers," says Anthony Jackson, leader of Deloitte’s U.S. airlines practice.
  • "It’s rare to see this kind of consolidation be a positive for consumers," said David Slotnick, who covers the airline business for The Points Guy.
  • Meanwhile, two new low-cost airlines catering to leisure travelers, Breeze and Avelo, have also popped up during the pandemic.

What to watch: The Frontier-spirit deal pushback from the U.S. Justice Department, which sued to prevent a domestic alliance between American and JetBlue — arguing that the agreement would drive up prices and reduce competition.

Read the full story

2. Flex office's rapid rise

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Here's the big winner that's emerging in the post-pandemic working world: co-working space companies, Erica Pandey writes.

By the numbers: 24% of companies surveyed in a new CBRE report say they expect more than a quarter of their office space to be flex within the next two years.

  • An additional 26% of companies expect to have 10% to 25% flex office space in two years.

And the change is coming faster for the giants: When looking just at companies with 10,000 employees or more, CBRE found that 18% expect that half or more of their office portfolio will be composed of flex spaces.

What's happening: Firms are trying to plan for a future in which the only certain thing is that workers want flexibility when it comes to where and when they work.

  • To that end, they're realizing that long-term office space leases won't work for the hybrid world.
  • Companies are also hiring more remote workers who might live far away from headquarters but still want a workspace so they can escape their homes. To appease those employees, companies are getting flex spaces in satellite cities to complement their core offices.
  • Flex space is also a lower cost way for a firm to enter a new city and check out the local talent market.

As a result, the co-working companies are booming, per CBRE.

  • Industrious added 639,000 square feet of space in 2021. Venture X added 159,000 square feet, and Common Desk expanded by 129,000 square feet.
  • WeWork expanded its membership base by 24% in 2021.

3. NBC serves up Beijing Olympics in VR

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Most viewers will still get their Olympics fix from traditional broadcasting, but NBC is betting that a cadre of early adopters equipped with Meta's Quest 2 headset will flock to consume 150 hours of live and on-demand content from the Games in virtual reality, Ina Fried writes in Axios Login.

The big picture: With today's headsets becoming more capable and the tech industry pushing new metaverse schemes, VR is gaining new momentum as a platform for mass-media content.

How it works: VR broadcasts provide viewers with a 180-degree view, allowing for more peripheral vision and an immersive feel — but not a full interactive experience in which you can move around.

  • The broadcast will switch camera angles at times, such as shifting from mid-ice view to behind the goal in ice hockey.

Details: NBC is delivering the opening and closing ceremonies live along with broadcasts from a half-dozen sports, with features and highlights from 10 additional events.

  • In an effort to combat the solitary nature of VR viewing, NBC is offering the ability to host a "virtual Olympics watch party" and invite up to three friends to a virtual suite, where they can interact and watch live coverage together.

Ina's hands-on report: Watching part of a U.S. women's hockey game, I did feel more like I was in the arena, which for this year meant truly getting a feel for how empty it was.

Read the rest

4. What we're reading

The FDA announced in 2021 that people with mild or moderate hearing loss could soon buy hearing aids without a medical exam or special fitting. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

White House Sees Hearing Aids as Chance to Lower Prices Through More Competition (The Wall Street Journal)

  • The lead of this story speaks for itself: "Getting a pair of hearing aids can cost up to $5,000. The White House says they should be as little as a few hundred dollars. And it says it has a plan to make that possible: deregulate the market to increase competition."

How Yiddish Scholars Are Rescuing Women’s Novels From Obscurity (The New York Times)

  • Yiddish scholars are starting to translate novels written a century ago that still have relevance. In one such book, "Miriam Karpilove writes from the perspective of a sardonic young woman frustrated by the men’s advocacy of unrestrained sexuality and their lack of concern about the consequences for her."

Got (breast) milk? Demand for donations is rising (Axios Columbus)

5. 1 fun thing: Botched online grocery orders

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Visuals

E-commerce is projected to make up 20% of the online grocery market in 2026, per Supermarket News.

Yes, but: More orders mean more silly mishaps, Erica writes.

What's happening: Most online grocery services offer substitutions when requested items are out of stock.

  • And some, such as Whole Foods via Amazon, have settings that automatically accept those substitutions in case the shopper isn't around to communicate with the grocery picker in real time.

It's no big deal when the change-up is sharp cheddar instead of extra-sharp. But sometimes the substitutions can get pretty weird, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Rhett Mitter from D.C. ordered horseradish from Whole Foods to mix with ketchup for a cocktail sauce. He got beets.
  • Florida's Annette Wilson ordered 50 baubles from Walmart for her Christmas tree. She got two packs of brown pine cones.
  • Ajanay Barnes in California was craving strawberry shortcake ice cream and ordered it from Walmart via Instacart. She got frozen sausage, egg and cheese breakfast rolls.

Have you had any hilarious online grocery substitutions? Tell us the story at [email protected].

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