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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 12-26, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli

· JFK Is in Crisis, So Delta Makes It Worse
· When Signature Architectural Features Collapse
· A Roundup of Major New International Hotels
· US Airways Cuts Flights in Pittsburgh Again
· TSA Drops the Other Shoe on the RT Plans
· Alaska Airlines Trims the Lifespan of Miles
· Don't Blame Airlines for the Gotbaum Tragedy


JFK Is in Crisis, So Delta Makes It Worse
The chaotic situation at Kennedy Airport--just 59 percent of its flights arrived on-time this summer--has finally drawn the attention of the somnambulant Department of Transportation (DOT). Transportation Secretary Mary Peters will convene a two-day meeting later this month to help the airlines (who are otherwise not allowed to talk to each other) rationalize their JFK schedules, which have skyrocketed 41 percent during the last 18 months. In the meantime, Delta Air Lines, the major contributor to JFK's recent problems, continues to run amok. It has announced still another huge expansion next summer at the nation's most-delayed airport. Atop its existing 181 peak-day departures to 77 destinations, most of which Delta didn't serve from JFK just two years ago, the airline announced it will expand to 204 flights to 93 destinations. To make matters worse, Delta continues to downsize the equipment it uses on key routes out of JFK. One example: JFK-Los Angeles, where Delta's five daily flights are served with Boeing 757s. Starting next month, however, Delta will switch to smaller Boeing 737s on two of the daily flights, thus reducing its total seat capacity by about 10 percent without reducing the number of take-offs and landings at JFK. Who loses? Delta flyers, of course. Because its aging facilities at JFK can't handle the passenger or baggage loads, Delta is scrapping its current rule requiring flyers to check bags at least 30 minutes before departure. Effective Monday, Delta will require travelers to check their bags at JFK at least 45 minutes before departure.

When Signature Architectural Features Collapse!
Okay, so, "When Signature Architectural Features Collapse!" probably won't make it as a Fox reality show, but don't tell that to guests at the Embassy Suites hotel in the Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley. The hotel's atrium--the chain's signature architectural feature--collapsed on Wednesday (October 10). Thankfully, no one was injured. Several notable new overseas hotels have opened, including the 200-room Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt outside of Dublin; the 248-room Raffles Dubai; and the Travelodge City Road in London. The 392-room Travelodge is located an historic building that once housed the former Singer headquarters. Fairmont Hotels has sold its Delta Hotels division to an investment firm. Radisson Hotels is offering double miles in four airline programs: American AAdvantage; Northwest WorldPerks; Air Canada Aeroplan; and United Mileage Plus. The promotion runs through December 31.

US Airways Cuts in Pittsburgh Again, AirTran Moves Right In
The impressive (and efficient) US Airways hub at Pittsburgh continues to shrivel. By January, the airline will cut back to 22 daily traditional jet flights and about four dozen commuter flights. Other carriers--notably, JetBlue, Southwest and AirTran--have already filled some of the Pittsburgh gap and AirTran Airways says it will add even more service next year. Effective February 14, AirTran will add daily flights to Fort Myers and daily flights to Fort Lauderdale. Its current Saturday-only service to Tampa will go to daily on the same day. Years after other major carriers have added elite traveler lines at their boarding gates, Delta Air Lines is finally adopting the process at its Atlanta hub. The carrier's so-called Breezeway lines are open to SkyMiles Medallion members, first-class, business-class and Business Elite flyers and SkyTeam Elite Plus travelers. ... Priority Pass, the network of more than 500 airport clubs around the world, is raising the price of club visits to $27 from its current $24. The fee applies to guests of members and members who use Priority Pass' restricted-visit levels. The price rise is effective November 1. Maxjet Airways is dropping its all-business-class flights from Washington/Dulles on October 29.

The TSA Drops the Other Shoe on Registered Traveler
The same law that created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in November, 2001, also created the concept of a registered-traveler (RT) program. But the TSA has opposed viable, privately operated security bypass for frequent travelers since the first day. The other shoe dropped this week when the TSA decided that the shoe-scanning technology championed by Clear, the largest RT operator, didn't meet the agency's secret and ever-changing standards. And as if to further punish Clear for even trying, TSA has shut down Clear's shoe scanner at Orlando, which had been operating since January. That means Clear and the two other RT operators are charging frequent travelers $100-a-year or more, running them through biometric and identity hoops and offering nothing in the way of useful security bypass. Just a day before the TSA ruled, Clear's biggest perceived competitor, Unisys, got out of the registered-traveler game. It sold its rtGo program, which operates at Reno airport, to a company called Flo.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines has joined the other major carriers in restricting the life of frequent flyer miles. Effective next April, Alaska miles will be valid for only two years without account activity. The sale of Midwest Airlines to a private equity group and Northwest Airlines may not be a slam dunk after all. The Justice Department has asked for more information, which doesn't mean the deal is in trouble, but does presage some reservations on the part of the government. US Airways passengers on Flight 17 from New York/JFK to Phoenix spent seven hours on the runway on Tuesday (October 8). During stormy weather, the pilot chose to stay in line rather than return to the gate. He eventually was forced back to the gate to refuel anyway. BoardFirst.com, which secured Southwest Airlines "A" Group boarding passes for a fee, has folded. Southwest has opposed the service and had won a preliminary round in a Texas court. Speaking of Southwest, the airline says that its employees made a mistake when they told a traveler he would be taken off a flight if he didn't remove a T-shirt that promoted a fictional bait shop called "Master Baiter."

Don't Blame the Airlines for This Tragedy
The sad case of Carol Gotbaum, who apparently strangled herself with her handcuffs after being arrested on September 28 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, raises a disturbing question: Why are airlines and airport police expected to play nursemaid to troubled flyers who should never be traveling alone? The 45-year-old Gotbaum was headed to an alcohol rehab center when she missed her flight, lost control and became disruptive. Besides her alcohol problem, her family has described her as depressed and suicidal. So why was she traveling alone? Why wasn't a family member or friend flying with her to make sure she reached the rehab center safely? And how can it logically be the responsibility of any airline or the cops on the airport beat to know that an alcoholic, depressive, suicidal flyer will be traveling and needs special attention when the smallest thing goes wrong?
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.