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A BRIEFING FOR JUNE 26 TO JULY 10, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· Guess Who's Still Growing? Southwest Airlines
· American, United, Midwest Make More Cuts
· A 'New' King of Velcro Hotels 'Opens' in Toledo
· TSA Revives Secondary Screening at the Gate
· Qantas Premium Economy vs. United Business
· IRS Raises the Driving Rate to 58.5 Cents a Mile
· Marriott Points Now Buy Luggage Shipping


Guess Who's Still Growing? Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines released its fall and winter schedule today (June 26) and guess what? It'll keep growing. Although the airline will drop 31 roundtrip flights beginning November 2, it will add 40 others. By contrast, the Big Six are shrinking by 10-15 percent in the fall. What is Southwest cutting? Two routes--Oakland-Tucson and Sacramento-Kansas City--and some frequencies, primarily to/from Chicago/Midway and Oakland. What gets added? New routes from Denver to John Wayne/Orange County and Tulsa; a new route between St. Louis and Fort Myers; and three new routes from Fort Lauderdale: Las Vegas, Kansas City and Albany. Searching for a strategy in Southwest's moves? Consider: Denver-based Frontier is in bankruptcy and Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines has warned employees that almost half of them may soon be laid off. One other note: United Airlines boldly announced last week that it would require minimum stays on virtually all of its coach fares beginning October 6. No other carrier had matched as of today. And that was before Southwest loaded its schedules, which are effective through January 9. It'll be interesting to see how far and how fast United climbs down wherever it competes with Southwest.

Another Week of Gigantic Cutbacks
In this week's cutback missive from American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier dumped almost 200 more flights out of the fall schedule. American said it would drop 28 mainline and 34 commuter flights at its Chicago/O'Hare hub; dump 19 mainline and 23 commuter flights at its Dallas/Fort Worth hub; slash eight mainline and 35 regional flights from its already desiccated hub in St. Louis; and cancel a total of 42 flights (37 of them regional) at New York/LaGuardia. American will end all service in several cities, including Albany, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; San Luis Obispo, California; and Barranquilla, Colombia. United Airlines continues its contraction in South Florida. Two weeks ago, we mentioned that it plans to cut its once-formidable hub at Miami to just four daily flights. Now comes news that it will end all service at Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, too. Watch for deep service and route cuts at Midwest Airlines. The Milwaukee-based carrier has confirmed that it will ground its 12 aging MD-80s. That's about a third of its total fleet. At least nine of the MD-80s are now being flown on scheduled routes.

In Toledo, Another Contender for the King of Velcro
You have surely heard the term "Velcro Hotel," a reference to lodgings that constantly change their chain affiliation. The brand signs on the buildings, say hotel wags, change so frequently that they are affixed with Velcro. Among the current contenders for the title of the King of Velcro are the current Hotel Pennsylvania in New York and the InterContinental in Kansas City. Both have had myriad brand names over the years. Two up-and-comers: the current LaQuinta in Stamford, Connecticut, and a Marriott on Sutter Street in San Francisco, both of which have had at least five names each. Now the latest challenger: The 14-story hotel on Summit Street in Toledo, Ohio. The property opened in 1985 as a Sofitel. Three years later, it became the Marriott Portside. In 1994, it became the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, then shed the Holiday Inn name when Crowne Plaza became a separate brand. Four years later, it became a Wyndham. In 2005, the building was sold and the 241-room hotel was renamed the Toledo Riverfront. A new owner purchased the building 15 months ago for $7.5 million and hired a new management company. This week, after $6 million of renovations, the hotel became the Crowne Plaza Toledo.

Boy, We Sure Could Live Without This
Just when you thought it might be safe to go back to the airport now that the big airlines are cutting enough flights to get the system back on schedule, the pointy-headed bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have gone back to the future to make our lives miserable. For reasons known only to itself, the TSA has reintroduced secondary screening at the gate. The program appears to be selective rather than nationwide--"These checks are not announced in advance and can occur at any gate, at any time," the TSA thundered last week--and not in response to any particular security threat. Speaking of TSA attitudes, the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department says that low morale among front-line screeners may be compromising security. The 29-page report from Inspector General Richard Skinner says screeners are frustrated and distracted and TSA efforts to address the problems have been inadequate. How did TSA officials react? They ripped the messenger, claiming that Skinner's report had "flawed conclusions." TSA Administrator Kip Hawley made it clear that he would ignore the report, which is how the TSA reacts whenever Congress, passengers or anyone criticizes it.

Strikes at Qantas, Shifts at United, Seat-Width Tricks
Qantas flyers take note: A dispute between the airline and its mechanics has led to dozens of cancellations in recent days. The two sides are arguing over pay increases and Qantas' desire to outsource many maintenance functions. Speaking of Qantas, the airline will add a premium economy cabin to its U.S. flights later this year. The seats in the cabin will have 42-inch seat pitch and be 19.5 inches wide. Premium Economy will be available on Los Angeles-Sydney flights beginning November 14 and on Los Angeles-Melbourne flights on December 19. ... United Airlines flyers to London take note: United flights to and from Heathrow Airport shift to Terminal 1 on July 4. The airline says its new space there will have an exclusive check-in area for first-class and Mileage Plus Global Services flyers. Speaking of United, travelers who've run into the carrier's new business-class cabins have been shocked to learn that the much-touted lie-flat seat beds are awfully narrow. Why? The new business-class seats on the carrier's Boeing 747s are just 19 inches wide, compared to 20.5 inches wide in the old configuration. In other words, United's new business class has narrower seats than Qantas' new premium economy cabin. Needless to say, United is Qantas' only U.S. competitor on Australian routes.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
As fares skyrocket, you may be looking at driving to some of your meetings. If so, you should know that the Internal Revenue Service has raised the per-mile business driving rate to 58.5 cents. The new rate goes into effect on July 1. Marriott Rewards members can now cash points for luggage shipping. The hotel giant and the Luggage Club have struck the unique deal. Speaking of luggage, Delta Air Lines says it will rebate the $25 second-bag fee for any traveler who had purchased tickets before April 9. The coffee on US Airways sucks. We know that because the airline, which will charge $2 for soft drinks beginning August 1, is lowering the price of coffee to $1. The airline says it won't raise its coffee charge to $2 until it upgrades the brew in the fall. American Airlines began testing in-flight Internet on two aircraft this week. The planes are on the transcon route between New York/Kennedy and Los Angeles.
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.