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A BRIEFING FOR MAY 22 TO JUNE 5, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· How Deep Will the Big Six Route Cuts Be?
· Southwest Ratchets Up the Pressure in Denver
· BA's OpenSkies Launches June 19 to Paris/Orly
· Of Course They'll Match American's First-Bag Fee
· More Notable Hotel Conversions and Flag Shifts
· Labor Woes Mean Flyers Avoid the Greenbrier
· San Francisco's Dine About Town Is June 1-15


How Deep Will the Big Six Cuts Be?
American Airlines hit the panic button this week and chief executive Gerard Arpey told the carrier's annual meeting that American would slash mainline capacity by 8 percent in the fourth quarter. The airline's commuter operations will be cut by about 10 percent. Both estimates are double what American had predicted just a few weeks ago when it released first-quarter results. Rest assured that American won't be alone. Expect other Big Six carriers to announce double-digit capacity cuts in the next few weeks. One of the nation's big commuter airlines, Mesa, which flies for three of the Big Six, is also warning that it faces an imminent bankruptcy filing. Alaska Airlines says it will cut some non-hub routes and has decided not to launch some of its usual seasonal service. And ExpressJet, the struggling commuter carrier than has been trying to establish its own flights on secondary routes, announced a 30 percent cut in service beginning in September. There's really only one question here: How fast can profitable, aggressively fuel-hedged Southwest gear up to fill the gap? It has already decided not to retire some of its older jets and has borrowed $600 million in recent weeks, presumably to fund an expansion.

Labor Woes at the Greenbrier Mean Travelers Are Booking Elsewhere
The fancy, clubby Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia is losing meeting and convention business due to a simmering labor dispute. The resort's master labor contract expired at the beginning of the year and that has frightened meeting planners, who are reluctant to book at a property where a strike could begin at any time. Several dozen groups have shifted meetings elsewhere, notably to The Homestead, a Virginia resort about 40 miles away. Doubletree has put its flag on the former Hotel LaBella, a 151-room property in Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri. Another Doubletree conversion: the 183-room former Radisson Northlake in Tucker, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. A $10 million renovation has converted the 289-room Sheraton in Billings, Montana, into a Crowne Plaza hotel. The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort has opened on Kauai in the Princeville complex near Hanalei, Hawaii. The property features studio and one- and two-bedroom suites. Prices start at $600 a night.

Southwest Increases the Pressure (Again) in Denver
Southwest Airlines continues to up the pressure on United and Frontier in Denver. Beginning September 2, it will add daily roundtrips to San Francisco and Omaha. The carrier had previously announced it would launch flights to Portland, Oregon, and Indianapolis (June 4) as well as service to Sacramento, Fort Lauderdale and New Orleans (August 4). That means Southwest will operate 95 flights a day from Denver to 30 cities. The Transportation Security Administration's self-select lanes have opened in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Travelers can choose from black "expert" lanes, as well as lines for casual flyers and families. A branch of D'Arcy McGee's, a local favorite, has opened at Ottawa Airport. Alaska Airlines is adding two new routes from its Seattle hub. Flights to Minneapolis begin on October 26; service to Kona launches on November 17.

Of Course They'll Match the American First-Bag Fee
American Airlines' ill-conceived $15 fee for checking a first bag surprised the bosses of the other Big Six carriers, but don't think for a second that they won't match. Expect United Airlines to be first, possibly as early as this long weekend. US Airways would then follow in short order. That'll give Delta and Northwest, which filed merger paperwork with the government just before American announced its fee on Wednesday (May 21), the political cover they needs to add the fee. The first-bag fee wasn't the only new charge that American introduced this week. It increased the domestic change fee to $150 and the international change charge to as high as $300; increased the fee for ticketing by phone to $20 and the airport-ticket fee to $30; and also raised the charge for unaccompanied minors (to $100), oversized bags (to $150) and reinstatement of frequent flyer miles (to $150). Now that Aloha Airlines is gone, inter-island Hawaii fares are rising. Hawaiian Airlines has raised its base price to $64 one-way and go! has raised its lowest fares to $59.

BA Gets OpenSkies Up and Running for June 19 Launch
British Airways has received approval to launch its new-wave carrier called OpenSkies. The airline launches June 19 with nonstop flights between New York/Kennedy and Paris/Orly and has even struck a code-share deal with L'Avion, the all-business-class start-up that flies between Newark and Orly. OpenSkies has configured its Boeing 757 with three classes: a 24-seat business class equipped with BA's first-generation lie-flat beds; a 28-seat premium economy class called "prem+," which features seats with 52-inch pitch; and 30 coach seats. Business-class prices seem to be coming in just below prevailing New York-Paris fares. Opening fares for the middle cabin start at $720 each way. Singapore Airlines now offers iPod and iPhone connectivity on some of its flights. It allows travelers to run their own media on the airline's seatback monitors and through the sound system. Delta Air Lines says it will launch flights between its Atlanta hub and Kuwait on November 7. The route will be operated with Boeing 777-200ERs. United Air Lines and Jet Airways of India have signed a code-share and frequent flyer program agreement that is due to start in November. Surprising absolutely no one, US Airways is trying to delay the launch of its Philadelphia-Beijing route. It was supposed to launch next spring.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says that SkyMiles members can now book award tickets for Air France online. Speaking of Delta, don't drink the water on Atlantic Southeast (ASA), one of the Delta Connection commuter carriers. U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators have found paint chips and other debris in ASA's drinking water equipment If you're into surveys, the latest one from the American Customer Satisfaction Index says that United Airlines and US Airways are the worst carriers in the nation. The best? No surprise anymore: Southwest Airlines. The same survey says that Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt were tops among hotel chains. San Francisco travelers take note: The city's 7th annual Dine About Town is June 1-June 15. Dozens of restaurants offer 3-course lunches for $21.95 and/or dinner for $31.95.
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.