THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 23 TO 30, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli
· The Merger Chips Begin Falling Into Place
· Amex Snags Admirals Clubs for Elite Members
· What's in a Name? Nothing in the Hotel Business
· The Attack of the Airline Junk Fees Continues
· The Horrors of September 11 Never End
· The China Recall Frenzy Hits Hotel Toothpaste
· You Should Never Carry $1 Million to the Airport
The Merger Chips Begin Falling Into Place
After months of delay and uncertainty, Delta Air Lines this week named Richard Anderson its new chief executive officer. If Anderson's name sounds familiar, it's because he was CEO of Northwest Airlines before leaving the airline industry in 2004. The 52-year-old Anderson, who joined Delta's board when it exited bankruptcy earlier this year, immediately took pains to deny that his appointment meant Delta was planning a merger with Northwest Airlines. But forget what he says. Watch what happens. Delta is mostly non-union and Northwest's unions despise the current CEO, Doug Steenland, who took the job when Anderson left. But Anderson is comparatively well-liked by Northwest rank-and-filers and isn't tarred by the brutal concessions Steenland beat from employees during Northwest's own bankruptcy. There's very little overlap in the Delta and Northwest route maps and both carriers are already code-share and SkyTeam Alliance partners. When the merger mania chatter begins again later this year, watch Northwest and Delta start talking about the obvious synergies. One sidebar: Midwest Airlines accepted a $450 million buy-out deal from a private-equity outfit last week, thus avoiding a merger with AirTran Airways. Northwest has a small stake in the deal, but claims that it is merely a passive partner in the Milwaukee-based airline. Yet the private-equity group that bought Midwest admits that eventually selling the carrier to Northwest is an appealing option.
Amex Snags The Admirals Club for Platinum and Centurion Members
American Express has scored a coup for its airport lounge-access program. Platinum and Centurion level cardholders now have access to American Admirals Clubs. Cardholders traveling on an American Airlines ticket need only present it and their appropriate Amex card for club access on the day of travel. As many as two traveling companions are also given access. Amex has similar deals with Continental, Delta and Northwest airport clubs. Northwest Airlines flyers take note: This is the weekend in June and July that the airline began canceling flights due to a shortage of available monthly duty time. Monitor the situation carefully if you are scheduled to fly Northwest in the next 10 days.
What's in a Name? Nothing in the Hotel Business
The endless game of change-the-flag continues to pick up momentum. Not a day goes by without some hotel somewhere switching its brand affiliation. So get out your scorecard and make note of the following changes: The 500-room Sheraton Colorado Springs has become the Crowne Plaza Colorado Springs. The old Radisson in downtown San Diego has become the 333-room Doubletree San Diego Downtown after an $11 million renovation. And a $16 million renovation has converted the former Wyndham in Burlington, Vermont, into the 258-room Hilton Burlington. Shocking as it may seem, people sometimes do build new properties. Such is the case with the 500-room Westin Lombard Yorktown Center. It's located in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb about 21 miles from Midway Airport and 12 miles from O'Hare. The new hotel has a branch of a nearly inexplicable Chicago favorite, Harry Caray's restaurant.
The Attack of the Junk Fees Continues
Airlines continue to raise their junk fees in a never-ending attempt to beat cash out of you. Without notice, Delta Air Lines increased a range of fees on August 1. The price for making reservations by phone jumped to $20 from $10; booking a SkyMiles award ticket within 21 days of departure rose to $75 from $50; and the price for making reservations changes jumped to $75 from $50. And to add insult to financial injury, Delta has also dropped the mileage bonus for booking a ticket at the Delta.com Web site. To its credit, at least JetBlue Airways posted a notice of its fee increases. Changing or canceling a flight now costs $45 by phone or $35 on the JetBlue.com Web site, up from $30 and $25 respectively. And it's not just airlines: China has doubled the price of a single-entry tourist visa to $100. A federal appeals court last week upheld a $226,000 judgment against American Airlines and BWIA for forcing a woman to check a carry-on bag containing a critical breathing apparatus. The airlines lost the bag and the 65-year-old woman died shortly after the 1997 flight from New York to Guyana. By forcing the woman to check the bag, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling that the airlines' were guilty of "willful misconduct."
The Horror of 9/11 Never Ends
The terrorists who slammed two jets into New York's Twin Towers on 9/11 are still killing the innocent. A fire last weekend at the former Deutsche Bank building at Ground Zero killed two firefighters. The derelict 41-story building, located at 130 Liberty Street on the southern edge of Ground Zero, has been empty since it was damaged in the 9/11 attack. A JetBlue Airways passenger is suing the airline and the Transportation Security Administration in federal court claiming ethnic discrimination. The passenger, a U.S. resident of Arabic descent, was wearing a shirt that said "We Will Not Be Silent" in both English and Arabic. He was forced to cover it up before he was permitted to fly between New York/Kennedy and Oakland in August, 2006. You can read the American Civil Liberties Union's take on the lawsuit here. JetBlue and TSA have both declined to comment.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Aer Lingus was able to fly most of its schedule this week after its pilots cancelled a previously announced strike. The pilots are angry over a lower wage scale that Aer Lingus is using at its new hub in Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you thought the China recall frenzy had no impact on business travelers, think again. Gilcrest & Soames, which makes bathroom amenities for mid-level hotels, has recalled its branded toothpaste. The toothpaste was made for the company in China and tests showed that some samples contained a chemical used in automotive antifreeze. Leona Helmsley died on Monday at the age of 87. She was a fixture for years in advertising for the Helmsley Hotels. She called herself "the Queen" in the ads, but was better known by her other sobriquet, "the queen of mean." If you just can't bring yourself to fly inter-island between Oahu, Maui and Kauai, please note: The Hawaii Superferry is scheduled to launch on August 28. It'll make the 3-hour runs six days a week and carry cars and people. Fares start at $44 one-way a person and $59 one-way for vehicles.
Why You Should Never Carry a Million Bucks to the Airport
Five gunmen robbed a Chinese citizen of US$1 million late last month inside Paraguay's Asuncion Airport. The victim owns a currency-exchange firm at the airport and was legally carrying the cash to a bank in Uruguay. The robbers were packing automatic weapons and pulled off the heist at the boarding area while Don Jon Kin was waiting for his flight.
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.
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This column is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.