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A BRIEFING FOR JULY 10 TO JULY 24, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· How Will We Know if American Is in Chaos?
· What United Doesn't Know About History
· Hotels Keep Opening, But the Outlook Is Bleak
· Airlines Add More Price Hikes and More Fees
· US Airways Says Entertain Yourself In-Flight
· ExpressJet Will Fold Its Branded Flights
· Delta Cuts Again at LAX and Salt Lake City


How Will We Know if American Airlines Is in Chaos?
American Airlines has been charging $15 for the first checked bag for almost a month now. It has also deployed armies of baggage monitors at airport ticket counters and in front of the security lines. The goal: Avoid chaos and the inevitable delays caused by an overload of carry-on bags that must be gate-checked before departures. But how can we tell if American is avoiding chaos and delays caused by the checked-bag fee? According to government statistics released on Monday (July 7), American finished dead last for on-time arrivals in May. Compared to the slightly improved industry-wide average of 79 percent, American's flights managed only a 67.3 percent on-time rating. That's the third consecutive month American has been at the bottom of the government ratings. And according to early statistics compiled by FlightStats.com, American will finish dead last in June, too, with less than 60 percent of its flights arriving within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival.

ExpressJet Folds Its Branded Flights
To the surprise of absolutely no one, ExpressJet has announced it will end its branded flights on September 1 and return to operating exclusively as a commuter airline. Like the failed Independence Air before it, ExpressJet tried to make aviation lemonade from a fleet of lemons: fuel-guzzling, 50-seat regional jets. Southwest Airlines, the only profitable major airline we've got right now, says it plans a code-share arrangement with WestJet, Canada's largest discount carrier. But don't hold your breath waiting on this one. Assuming the two airlines can cut the cross-border deal, it'll be late 2009 before it takes effect.

Glenn Tilton, Come on Down and Meet Napoleon and Hitler
When they write the history of the unraveling of United Airlines, this one may go down as the apex of this management's unique stupidity. Remember earlier this year when United decided not to start its long-planned San Francisco-Guangzhou route? Instead, it said it would move the aircraft to a new route it had cooked up: Washington/Dulles to Moscow. The service was due to launch in late October. But now comes word that United has asked the government for permission to delay the Moscow launch until next summer. It seems no one at United knew that you don't try to do anything at the start of the Russian winter. Also on the United chopping block: all service to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. The airline will also dump its San Francisco-Toronto flights. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines continues to pull back at its ill-fated Los Angeles hub and its Salt Lake City operation. It has severed its deal with ExpressJet; the commuter airline (see above) has been flying 23 regional jets as Delta Connection from those two hubs. Also gone: all service to Toledo, Ohio; Lansing, Michigan; and its Atlanta-Vienna flights.

Hotels Keep Opening, But the Outlook Is Bleak
In-the-pipeline hotels keep opening, but hotel stocks are getting pounded on Wall Street. Several major hotel firms hit 52-week lows earlier this week and Marriott released sharply lower second-quarter lower earnings today (July 10). Marriott's 24 percent profit decline is likely to be matched by other hotel chains in coming days. About those new hotels. The 471-room Renaissance Boston Waterfront has opened near the edge of the city's financial district. So has the 268-room Marriott Beijing Northwest. About 20 minutes from the airport, it is located between the Lido commercial district and the Wangjing High Tech Park. And Starwood has opened its third Aloft hotel. This 130-room property is in the Pinnacle Hills area of Bentonville, Arkansas.

No Surprise Here: More Price Hikes and More Fees
Northwest Airlines is piling on the new fees: It becomes the fourth of the Big Six to charge $15 for the first checked bag. It is effective for all tickets bought starting today (July 10) for flights beginning August 28. Also upped: the change fee, which is now $150 for domestic tickets. And the airline is adding a $25-$100 fee for the privilege of claiming a WorldPerks award. Northwest claims it is a fuel surcharge. Those fees take effect with awards claimed beginning on September 15. El Al is raising fuel surcharges on July 14 by 5 percent. Air France is bumping its fuel surcharge by 4 to 14 euros a flight effective immediately.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways, always the first with the least, says it will remove the in-flight entertainment units from its longer-haul domestic aircraft. This is exactly what Northwest Airlines tried a decade ago. Advantage Rent A Car has opened a rental location on West 63rd Street near Chicago/Midway Airport. An American Airlines flight from Miami to New York/LaGuardia was cancelled last Sunday (July 6) when a late-arriving flight crew was booed by the delayed passengers. The offended crew refused to work the flight, so passengers ended up being delayed overnight at Miami. When the travelers finally arrived at LaGuardia the next evening, they learned that American had mistakenly sent their luggage to New York/Kennedy Airport. Meanwhile, a United Airlines flight from Denver to Des Moines was delayed Tuesday (July 8) by almost six hours because three ticks were found on the aircraft. There was no word where the ticks' luggage ended up. Every business traveler in America has by now received a letter from its airline urging flyers to fight the supposed scourge of oil speculation. This industry-wide effort, which you can view here, is essentially an admission that the other carriers have no chance to compete with Southwest Airlines, which 70 percent hedged at $51 a barrel this year and 55 percent hedged at the same price next year.
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.