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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 14-28, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· Alternates Grow While the Big Six Contracts
· All a Liverpool Hotel Needs Is a Beatles Hook
· Big News for Smaller Cities on the Route Map
· Good News from HHonors; Bad News from US Air
· Say Goodbye to Some International Routes
· Continental Will Add At-Seat TV Service Next Year
· So Much for 'premium service' at United Airlines


The More the Big Six Contracts, The More the Alternates Grow
The Big Six have shrunk their domestic flying by about 20 percent since 9/11 and they continue to switch to international service at the expense of U.S. routes. That has left huge swatches of the route map available to the nimble alternate airlines. Here are some of this week's more notable incursions: In May, JetBlue Airways adds 16 new flights from seven Western cities, including its debut at Los Angeles International. It launches three daily flights between LAX and New York/Kennedy and a daily roundtrip between LAX and Boston. Long Beach loses a few of its existing transcon flights, but gets new service to Austin, San Jose and Seattle. Burbank gets new flights to Las Vegas and Washington/Dulles. And San Diego gets flights to Salt Lake City and Seattle. JetBlue is also expanding in Boston, adding flights to Jacksonville, Florida (March 16), Chicago/O'Hare (May 1) and New Orleans (May 1). Meanwhile, AirTran Airways adds a Los Angeles-Baltimore/Washington route on May 6. And Frontier Airlines says that it will expand commuter service from its Denver hub to eight new cities beginning in April.

All You Need Is a Beatles Hook
Okay, here's a line you never expected to read: A Four Seasons hotel has opened in St. Louis. The 200-room property is part of Lumiere Place on Laclede's Landing, a $500 million project on the banks of the Mississippi River. The end of the once-notable Adam's Mark chain draws nearer. The new owner of the group has converted the properties in Dallas and Denver to Sheraton hotels. With 1,225 rooms, the Denver property is the largest in Colorado. Speaking of conversions, the new owners of the Doral Tesoro in Fort Worth, Texas, have reflagged the property as the Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott & Golf Club. And then there's this: The Hard Days Night Hotel has opened in Liverpool, England. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you got it, it's a Beatles-themed hotel in the Fab Four's hometown. The 110-room property is close to the Cavern Club, the nightspot where the Beatles got their start.

Good News for Smaller Cities on the Route Map
Small-town America gets much-needed new service this summer thanks to the commuter carriers of the Big Six. On June 21, Mesaba, a Northwest Airlink carrier, launches flights to Dubuque from Northwest's Minneapolis-St. Paul hub. On June 5, several United Express carriers add the following routes: Chicago/O'Hare-Quebec City; Denver-Helena, Montana; Los Angeles-Tulsa, Oklahoma; and San Francisco-Victoria, British Columbia. On the same day, Delta Connection carrier SkyWest will add two daily flights to Arcata-Eureka, California, from Delta's Salt Lake City hub. In January, Albany, the capital of New York State, lost flights to Buffalo and Boston when a Delta Connection carrier stopped flying. But US Airways Express will launch replacement service. Flights to Boston resume on April 6; Buffalo resumes on May 5. A quick-service spa has opened at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It is located on the first floor of Departure Lounge 2 just behind Passport Control.

Good News from HHonors; Bad News from Dividend Miles
Hilton HHonors has eliminated blackout dates and capacity controls from all 2,900 hotels in the system. But the changes only apply to standard rooms, not deluxe accommodations or suites. US Airways, which has already infuriated its most frequent flyers, continues to devalue its Dividend Miles program. The airline is dropping the 500-mile minimum for flights. Effective May 1, flights will only accrue the actual number of route miles. That will seriously devalue the earning capacity of commuter routes and US Airways' East Coast Shuttle flights. The other bit of bad news: Travelers who claim awards on the Web within 14 days of departure will be charged a $50 "quick ticketing fee." Travelers who claim by phone already pay $75. Only Chairman's and Platinum Preferred members are exempt from the fees. Hyatt Hotels has an appealing new location for Gold Passport members: Trinidad. The 428-room Hyatt Regency Trinidad opened earlier this month. Starwood Preferred members take note: The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the so-called Pink Palace of the Pacific, will close for a six-month renovation on May 31.

Say Goodbye to Some International Routes
The giddy, nonstop international expansion spree that the world's airlines have been on for the last few years was bound to end sometime. And now we're beginning to see some marginal routes bite the dust. Effective March 30, for example, Emirates is dropping its New York/Kennedy-Hamburg, Germany, route. On the same day, eternally troubled Alitalia will drop is routes from Boston and Chicago to Milan. On April 26, Air New Zealand will dump its flights between Los Angeles and Nadi, Fiji. And on April 1, Air Jamaica is giving up on its New York/Kennedy-St. Lucia nonstops. On the plus side of the ledger, KLM will launch Airbus A330 flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to its Amsterdam hub. And Porter Airlines will launch flights from close-in Toronto/City Island Airport to Newark beginning March 31. The seven daily roundtrips will be flown with 70-seat Q400 turboprops. And this note for African travelers: Effective April 1, Lufthansa will fly from its Frankfurt hub to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines says that will add live, at-seat television service on domestic flights beginning next year. The TV system is provided by DirecTV and LiveTV, which is owned by JetBlue Airways, the first airline to have at-seat television service. Speaking of JetBlue, the airline finally completed its first international alliance. A long-awaited deal with Aer Lingus, the Irish carrier, will begin in April. The arrangement is less than a code-share, but JetBlue travelers headed to Ireland on Aer Lingus will be able to check their luggage direct to Shannon or Dublin at their originating airport. American Airlines has been canceling a large number of flights this month. The reason: not enough pilots. Surprise! Surprise! United Airlines has gone back on its word on its supposed "premium service" (p.s.) between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. When United introduced specially configured three-class Boeing 757s on the routes several years ago, it promised it would never downgrade equipment. And now, of course, it has. After first substituting three-class Boeing 767s, United is using traditionally configured, two-class Boeing 757s on some p.s. flights. United has neither alerted flyers to the switches nor voluntarily offered refunds or other make-goods to first-class flyers who have lost their lie-flat beds, coach customers who lost their extra legroom and business-class flyers who've lost their entire cabin.
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 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.