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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 26-MAY 10, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli

· Great Bankruptcy, Too Bad About the Customers
· An Unholy War Over Cabs at Minneapolis/St.Paul
· Verizon and Sprint Go Global With BlackBerry
· Starwood Shifts 13 Sheratons in India to Luxury
· No Size Standards Yet for Carry-Ons in the EC
· Car Renters Are Falling From 'Grace' Fast
· What to Expect on the Road Next Month


Great Bankruptcy at Delta, Too Bad About the Customers
Delta Air Lines exits bankruptcy next week after a comparatively speedy 18 months of Chapter 11 protection. The milestone has already unleashed a spate of fawning media reports that naturally ignores the actual customer experience. As anyone who has flown Delta recently can attest, however, the airline is plagued by absurd delays, mounds of lost luggage and deteriorating facilities. Shortly after entering bankruptcy in September, 2005, Delta embarked on a breakneck international expansion and it turned massive amounts of domestic flying over to commuter carriers. The results have been disastrous, according to Transportation Department figures. Comair, Delta's wholly owned commuter subsidiary, has the worst on-time performance in the nation and more than 10 percent of its scheduled flights don't even operate. More than 7 percent of its flights are "regularly delayed," which is twice the industry average. It also mishandles bags at about twice the industry average. Delta's other primary commuter carrier, a formerly owned subsidiary called Atlantic Southeast Airlines, is almost as bad. The fruit of this domestic chaos--a huge new international hub at New York/Kennedy--is also running poorly. The carrier's two terminals at JFK have endured decades of physical neglect and Delta has done little but patch the worst holes. And Mesa Airlines, which operates much of Delta's connecting service at JFK, is operating at about 43 percent on-time.

Car Renters Are Falling From 'Grace'
When Hertz slashed its grace period for late returns to 30 minutes from an hour less than 18 months ago, it was inevitable that other rental firms would follow. But the speed at which the grace period is disappearing is startling. Here's where we stand now. Four major car-rental firms have totally eliminated the grace period: Dollar, Enterprise, National and Thrifty. Avis, which always insists that it tries harder than Hertz, is actually a little worse here. Its grace period for late rentals is 29 minutes. Budget and Alamo are essentially the last holdouts; both of those firms offer a 59-minute grace period. As always, however, check your contract. The specifics sometimes differ from airport to airport and rental firms impose different terms on international rentals.

An Unholy War Over Cabs at Minneapolis/St.Paul
Officials in Minneapolis are cracking down on cab drivers who use their religious beliefs to refuse fares at Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. Effective in May, drivers who refuse to transport passengers who are traveling with dogs or are carrying liquor are subject to a 30-day license suspension. A second offense results in a two-year license revocation. The cab drivers in question are mostly Somali Muslims who have adopted an extreme interpretation of the Koran. They claim their faith's ban on the consumption of alcohol includes transporting anyone carrying it. Some have refused to transport pets and guide dogs, claiming that the animals are unclean. According to the Metropolitan Airport Commission, which runs MSP, almost 5,000 complaints were registered since 2002 against drivers refusing to carry passengers traveling with liquor or dogs.

What to Expect on the Road in May
New international service generally dominates in the spring and May will be no exception. Iberia will launch five weekly flights from Boston to Madrid (May 6). LTU International will fly to Dusseldorf five times a week from Los Angeles and twice a week from Las Vegas (May 3). American Airlines will offer daily flights to Shannon and Dublin from its Chicago/O'Hare hub (May 1). US Airways restarts its seasonal flights from Philadelphia and Athens (May 25). Air France will start its morning flight (7:50 a.m.) from New York/Kennedy to Paris (May 1). Delta Air Lines adds nonstops from Atlanta to Prague (May 2), Vienna (May 21) and Dubai (May 31). From New York/Kennedy, it adds flights to Pisa, Italy, on May 31. And my favorite: Air Greenland's seasonal flights from Baltimore-Washington to Kangerlussuaq begin on May 25. ... Domestically, JetBlue Airways opens two new cities: Flights to San Francisco (from Boston and JFK) launch May 3 and service to Nantucket (from JFK) starts on May 24. AirTran Airways is also breaking into new markets in May. It'll launch flights from its Atlanta hub to San Diego (May 24); St. Louis (May 8); and Charleston, South Carolina (May 24). ... US Airways adds to the transcontinental inventory with new flights between Charlotte and Portland, Oregon, on May 28.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Good news for all you Crackberry addicts: Beginning next month, Verizon and Sprint will begin selling Blackberry devices capable of working both domestically and internationally. Both firms offer CDMA service in the United States, which is not compatible with the GSM networks overseas. The BlackBerry 8830 World Edition will cost around $400 before discounts and the Sprint version will be "unlocked," which means travelers will be able to choose the international GSM network they use. The other major cellphone providers, Cingular and T-Mobile, use the GSM network both here and abroad. ... A strike of flight attendants at SAS has scrambled schedules throughout Scandinavia. Only a few of SAS' flights to or from the United States have been affected, however. ... Starwood says that it is shifting a baker's dozen of its properties in India to the Luxury Collection flag from its Sheraton brand. ... The European Community has delayed for at least a year an EC-wide standard for the size of carry-on bags. Airlines flying in the EC were going to impose the British size standard (about 22x18x10 inches) on all carry-on bags beginning next week.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.