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THE BRIEFING FOR JULY 19-AUG. 2, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli

· Virgin America on Day One: A Web Crash
· More Airport Clubs for Your Waiting Time
· Big Carriers Have 17% Fewer Employees Now
· The Dollar Plummets to New Lows in Europe
· Carriers Are Jacking Up the Fuel Surcharges
· Sun Country Launches a Frequent Flyer Plan
· St. Augustine Gets Its First Commercial Flight


Virgin America Starts: Not With a Bang, But a Web Crash
Eight years after Richard Branson first told us he'd launch a U.S. carrier and eight days after Virgin America received government approval to sell tickets, the airline finally got around to actually selling seats today (July 19). The Web site promptly crashed, which doesn't give you confidence that these guys know what they are doing. Before the outage, however, the site revealed these details: Virgin America hopes to launch on August 8 with daily flights between New York/Kennedy and San Francisco. The carrier also expects to launch in the California Corridor between SFO and Los Angeles on August 8, followed by LAX-JFK (August 29); SFO-Washington/Dulles (September 26); SFO-Las Vegas (October 10); and LAX-Dulles on October 24. Fares on the SFO-JFK run start at $139 each way in coach and $389 in first class. The flights in the Corridor and to Las Vegas start at $44 each way in coach. The airline also promises a frequent flyer program called "eleVAte" that will offer five points for every dollar spent. According to the site, there will be no blackout dates or capacity controls on awards. But there are no specific details, no awards chart and no information about partners or terms. (A 7 p.m. EDT update: The Virgin America Web site has come online again, but is operating at glacial speed.)

Well, at Least There Are More Clubs While You Wait
American Airlines has reopened its Admirals Club in Nashville, which used to be an American hub. The club, near gate C12, seats 60 and is equipped with four workstations. … The Star Alliance carriers have opened a combined lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal in Los Angeles. The club is open to first- and business-class passengers of the six Star Alliance carriers at Bradley: ANA, Asiana, Lufthansa, Singapore, Swiss and Thai. Gold-level Star flyers can also use the 15,000-square-foot club. … Speaking of LAX, more than 50 electronics charging stations have been placed throughout the airport's boarding areas. Each station allows up to four portable electronics devices to be recharged. … St. Augustine got its first commercial flight ever this week when Skybus launched a nonstop to Columbus, Ohio. The airport is located on US 1 and previously hosted only general-aviation and military aircraft. … Good news for travelers who need an overnight roost at Honolulu Airport. The old (read: filthy and decrepit) Honolulu Airport Hotel at 3401 Nimitz Highway has completed a $6 million renovation and is now called the Ohana.

Employees? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Employees…
Our summer of discontent continues apace and here's another reason: The Big Six carriers have slashed their workforces dramatically. As a result the Big Six don't have the boots on the ground to try to recover from the problems created by their egregious overscheduling with small aircraft. According to figures released on Tuesday (July 17) by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the Big Six and Alaska Airlines cumulatively operated with 17 percent fewer employees in May than they did in May, 2003. During that four-year period, Northwest slashed its full-time workforce by 24.9 percent. United, Delta and US Airways all were at least 20 percent below their respective 2003 levels. American's full-time employment declined 16.7 percent and Alaska Airlines' workforce dropped 6.4 percent. Only Continental, with a 3 percent increase in employees, bucked the four-year downsizing trend.

Hate What's Happening Here? It's Worse Over There…
No matter how bad this summer is here, it's worse if you go over there. First of all, you're going to pay more to get over there. At least three more carriers bumped up their fuel surcharges for international flights this week. Air France added 5 euros to its surcharge. Lufthansa added 10 euros to its transatlantic flights. And Thai Airways International added $10 to the fuel surcharge on flights to Bangkok. And what happens when you get over there? Oh, woe is your dollar. The greenback fell to still another record low against the 13-nation euro this week, surging past the $1.38 mark on Wednesday (July 18). Worse, analysts say that some traders believe $1.38 is the new "floor" for the euro and that the dollar can be expected to continue to deteriorate in the months ahead. The dollar also hit a 26-year low against the British pound, plunging below $2.05 this week. That means you are paying north of $2.10 for a British pound from most retail currency-exchange outlets.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Clear registered-traveler lanes have opened at Terminal B of Newark Airport. That makes eight U.S. airports with registered-traveler lanes. About 50,000 travelers have cards from Clear or rtGO. ... Sun Country, which is as close as Northwest Airlines gets to real competition in Minneapolis/St. Paul, has launched a new frequent flyer program. Ufly offers 10 points for each roundtrip; free tickets require 100 points for domestic seats. … Ritz-Carlton has taken over management of the Abama resort on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. … After a two-year hiatus, Air Canada will resume flights between Toronto and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. Four weekly roundtrips begin on December 15. … Turkish Airlines workers are scheduled to begin an indefinite strike tomorrow (July 20).
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.