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THE BRIEFING FOR JUNE 21 - JULY 5, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli

· American and Northwest Battle Over Routes
· Frequent Flyer Plan Cutbacks Large and Small
· More International Carriers Add U.S. Routes
· China Southern Joins Continental OnePass
· This Week's Security News, Mostly Stupid
· This Week's Passengers-Held-Hostage Story
· This Week's (Literally) Stinky-Service Report


The NIMBY Syndrome and the Big Six
If you thought that the Big Six learned anything at all during the lean, mean years since 9/11, you might have assumed it was some internal discipline. Apparently not. Witness the witless tit-for-tat route war between American and Northwest airlines. Intent on bulking up in the New York market, where it is battling with Delta, JetBlue and Continental, American Airlines announced earlier this month that it would add service between New York/LaGuardia and Minneapolis. Three daily flights launch on September 5. But Minneapolis-based Northwest would have none of it. Just days after the AA announcement, Northwest retaliated with a new route of its own: LaGuardia-Dallas/Fort Worth. DFW is American's hometown, of course, and Northwest further twisted the knife by announcing three flights a day and setting the launch date as (you guessed it) September 5. The chance of either carrier actually making money on the two new routes: approximately zero. That's especially true for just-out-of-bankruptcy Northwest, which doesn't fly to DFW or LGA from anywhere but its own hubs. At least American has something of a presence at LGA, with service to about two dozen cities.

The Cutbacks, Large and Small, Keep Rolling In
Airlines continue to fiddle with their frequent flyer programs and that invariably means bad news and cutbacks. Frontier Airlines, for example, has added blackout dates to its EarlyReturns program. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines says it now reserves the right to make changes to its Rapid Returns program with just 30 days notice. Previously, Southwest gave six months notice. And Thai Airways' Royal Orchid Plus, a popular program with frequent transpacific flyers, has increased the price of many of its most popular awards. Continental OnePass users take note: Beginning in September, you can earn miles on China Southern Airlines, which flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Guangzhou.

This Week's Feature: They Came From Overseas!
Airlines continue to expand like crazy on international routes, but this week's big news has something of a twist. The most notable new flights will come from carriers making their debut in the U.S. market. After several years of trying, for example, the highly regarded Jet Airways of India will launch U.S. service on August 5. The carrier's Newark-Brussels-Mumbai flights will operate with new Boeing 777-300ERs. Porter Airlines of Canada has been approved to begin flights from Newark to close-in Toronto/City Centre Airport. No start date has been announced, but service should begin in the fall. And another Canadian carrier, Zoom Airlines, will fly between London/Gatwick and New York/Kennedy beginning tomorrow (June 22). The low-fare carrier offers standard coach and a premium-economy class with extra legroom. A CORRECTION: Last week I misidentified a route that American Airlines will drop on October 26. The carrier will end its Dallas/Fort Worth-Zurich flights. My apologies.

Closing the Barn Door on a Barn Missing a Roof and a Floor
You have to hand it to the brainiacs at the Department of Homeland Security. It is furious that the State Department has temporarily suspended the rule requiring travelers to show passports when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. It also vigorously opposes a move in Congress to delay the passport requirement until at least June, 2009. As always, Homeland Security bureaucrats claim allowing travelers into the country without showing passports is an invitation for terrorists to slip into the United States. I guess no one at Homeland Security has noticed that the longest unguarded border in the world is between the United States and Canada. And that our border with Mexico may not be totally secure. Canada launched its version of a no-fly list this week. No disruptions were reported at Canadian airports. If you missed the video--perhaps you were watching the last five minutes of The Sopranos over and over?--the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says tapes of a confrontation over a sippy cup at Washington/National Airport proves that the passenger, not TSA officials, overreacted. The passenger was a former Secret Service agent. Neutral observers of the video--available here--find plenty of blame to go around. After months of delays, registered-traveler lanes have opened in Reno Airport. These lanes are operated by Unisys under the name rtGo. Registered travelers who hold Clear cards can use the lanes in Reno and rtGo cardholders can use Clear-operated registered-travel positions.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
What would a week be without another planeload of passengers being held hostage by an airline? A Cathay Pacific flight spent about seven hours at the gate in San Francisco on Tuesday (June 19) before being cancelled. The airline says the flight, which began boarding at midnight for a 1:20 a.m. departure to Hong Kong, was supplied with snacks, refreshments and a hot meal. Passengers, who were allowed off the plane at 7:30 a.m., insisted that they received neither information nor sustenance. Never think it can't get worse: Toilets overflowed on a Continental flight from Amsterdam to Newark last week and the sewage and the stink seeped into the passenger cabin. The tale is that much weirder because the plane had already made an unplanned overnight stop in Shannon, Ireland, to fix the faulty facilities. Needless to say, you don't want to be hiring that plumber. US Airways flyers between Phoenix and Albuquerque take note: No booze is available for sale. US Airways has lost its temporary liquor license in New Mexico. Why? A passenger who had flown to Albuquerque on US Airways was later involved in a fatal highway crash shortly after the flight landed. The passenger and five other others died in the accident near Santa Fe.
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.