A BRIEFING FOR JULY 17 TO JULY 31, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Meanwhile, Back at the War Against Terrorism
· This Week's Cuts and Deletions From the Airlines
· Fort Lauderdale, St. Regis Hardly Knew Ye
· Adding Some New Routes Among the Ruins
· United Is Closing Four More Red Carpet Clubs
· Helping the Wonderful Wonks at Cranfield U.
· Go! Will Charge a First-Bag Fee in Hawaii
Meanwhile, Back at the War Against Terrorism
When Larry King bumps back Wimbeldon champ Venus Williams to do a slapdash "breaking news" panel on the state of the airline business, you know the wider world is beginning to pay attention. But this week's biggest developments were actually on the security front. Let's start with the discovery phase of the trial of the so-called "flying imams" who were denied boarding on a US Airways flight from Minneapolis in November, 2006. As a terrific piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune explains, virtually everything the alarmists and the airline have claimed about the incident is not true. The imams, for example, were not flying on one-way tickets; US Airways, not the imans, selected their seat assignments; the imans were not targeted for extra security before boarding; the imam seated in first class was upgraded by the airline based on his elite status in the US Airways Dividend Miles and he was within the program's rights to request an upgrade for a traveling companion (who was blind); and at least one of the imans who requested a seat-belt extension needed it based on his bulk. The imans, who were in Minneapolis for a religious conference, are suing US Airways for discrimination. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union says that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "terrorist watch list" has reached a million names. And CNN reporter Drew Griffin, who has been investigating the TSA, says that his name has now mysteriously been added to the watch list. Finally, the TSA reports that it will comply with a law that requires it to screen 50 percent of cargo carried on passenger jets by February, 2009. But the Government Accountability Office says the TSA procedures will be rife with exemptions and loopholes. The most obvious: The TSA will not screen air cargo coming into the United States on foreign carriers.
Here Are This Week's Cuts and Deletions
Delta Air Lines will drop at least two more international routes from its Atlanta hub in September. Gone are flights to Ottawa, Canada, and Leon, Mexico. Delta is also pulling its flights from Yakima, Washington, to Salt Lake City on August 31. Continental Airlines is dropping its flights to Daytona Beach, Florida, from its Newark hub on September 2. The latest cuts from US Airways from its Charlotte hub: Sacramento (August 18) and Panama City, Florida (September 2). Also going: all flight service from Eugene, Oregon, and Oklahoma City. China Air Lines drops its flights from Seattle to Taipei on September 1.
Fort Lauderdale, We Hardly Knew Ye
That loud ripping sound you hear coming from Florida is Starwood pulling the St. Regis sign off the 14-month-old luxury hotel-condominium development it opened in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A dispute with the owners led to the split, which is effective on August 10. In other Starwood news, an aloft and the chain's first Element hotel have opened on Route 128 near Lexington, Massachusetts. And, no, I have no idea what those new brands represent. Rose Hall, one of the best-known resorts in Jamaica, is now a Hilton. The property has undergone $40 million in renovations. Also from Hilton: a new hotel just 12 miles from the airport in Columbus, Ohio. Crowne Plaza has converted the former Holiday Inn in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
Adding New Routes Among the Ruins
The nation's alternate carriers are scrambling to make cuts, too, but a lot of the planes are being redeployed onto new routes. JetBlue Airways, for example, says it will add several new flights in the fall, including Long Beach-Portland, Oregon, and Tampa-White Plains, New York, both on November 2. It is also offering three new routes from Washington/Dulles: Fort Myers and West Palm Beach, Florida (December 18), and Saturday-only service to Puerto Rico (December 20). AirTran Airways is adding two new routes: twice-weekly flights from Baltimore/Washington to San Juan (December 20) and twice-daily flights from Richmond, Virginia, to New York/LaGuardia (August 7). Horizon Air, the commuter carrier of Alaska Airlines, is adding some flights, too. It will begin service between Los Angeles and Prescott, Arizona, on September 8. Also new: Seasonal service from Los Angeles to Mammoth, the ski destination, starting December 18. Virgin America will add nonstop New York/Kennedy to Las Vegas flights on September 4.
United Is Closing More Red Carpet Clubs
United Airlines is disappearing so fast that it may need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to remind us where it's been. This week's disclosure: It will shutter four more Red Carpet Clubs by October 10. Gone will be the lounges in Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas/Fort Worth and Minneapolis. In other words, United is closing clubs in cities dominated by its major competitors: American (DFW), Atlanta (Delta) and Northwest (Minneapolis). Speaking of airport lounges, the Priority Pass program has added two dozen more clubs, including three Delta Crown Rooms at New York/Kennedy and one in Atlanta. Also new to the network: the American Admirals clubs in Honolulu; Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; and Panama. Clear, the registered-traveler program that has now been reduced to offering line-cut service, has opened two more locations: Delta Terminal D at New York/LaGuardia and Delta Terminal Two at JFK.
Helping Out the Wonderful Wonks at Cranfield
No one does a better job of compiling air-travel statistics and trends than the wonderful wonks under the direction of Dr. Keith Mason at the Department of Air Transportation at Britain's Cranfield University. One of Mason's students is working on a study of long-haul business-class travel and can use your help. He's put together a quick survey that you can access here.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The Big Six all own a piece of a new company called Sojern. What's it mean to you? The Big Six will now be selling advertising on boarding passes you print. Delta is already using the system on some routes. Sojern says you'll still be able to print your boarding pass on a single page if you desire. Thrifty Car Rental has joined Rapid Rewards, the frequent-flyer program of Southwest Airlines. Go!, the Hawaiian inter-island carrier owned by Mesa, now charges $10 to check a first bag. Time to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which code-shares with most of the Big Six and still doesn't charge to check the first bag. Hawaiian flies real jets, too, not the tinny, tiny 50-seat regional jets used by go! Speaking of baggage charges, Delta Air Lines said again this week that it would not impose a first-bag fee. Egyptair has joined the Star Alliance. The U.S. dollar reached a new low (just over $1.60) against the euro earlier this week before it returned to the $1.58 range. The greenback also hit a 25-year low against the Australian dollar. The Aussie buck was commanding 98 U.S. cents.
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.
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This column is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.