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A BRIEFING FOR AUG. 22 TO SEPT. 5, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· American and the TSA Tussle at O'Hare
· AirTran Will Add Flights in Columbus, Ohio
· Frontier Adds Fees, Raises Award Levels
· JetBlue Drops Some Transcons for Shorter Hauls
· Hilton Fiddles With HHonors Elite Benefits, Rules
· Another Burst of New Hotels and Flag Switches
· FAA Slaps Big Fines on American and Southwest


Cat Fight! American and the TSA Tussle at O'Hare
What started as a gaffe for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Chicago/O'Hare this week is developing into a big black eye for American Airlines, too. In the early hours of Tuesday morning (August 19), a TSA inspector was sniffing around some American Eagle jets parked for the night. By Wednesday, American Airlines, which owns American Eagle, was publicly lecturing the TSA because the inspector hoisted himself up on the planes by pipe-like temperature probes on the side of the aircraft. Although American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said no damage was done, the airline said that it was required to inspect the planes and that caused delays on about 40 flights. (American and American Eagle have been dead last in on-time performance for most of the year, so you know they appreciated the novel new excuse for tardy performance.) Yesterday (August 21), the TSA struck back. While admitting that its inspector should not have disturbed the probes, the agency said its man was able to gain access to seven of the nine aircraft. As a result, the TSA has launched an investigation into "multiple security violations" by American Eagle at O'Hare. The response from American's public relations brain trust in Dallas/Fort Worth? "Security doesn't necessarily mean that the airplane door is locked," spokesman Tim Smith told the Chicago Tribune. He had no comment on a report that American guards its aircraft by surrounding them with frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads. (Okay, I stole that last part from Dr. Evil...)

JetBlue and AirTran Juggle Their Route Maps
Although cutbacks at the Big Six carriers get most of the publicity, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways are dropping routes, too. The difference? They're adding some new stuff, too. At JetBlue, the airline is dropping many longer-haul and transcontinental flights. Although it hasn't announced it, the airline will dump three nonstop routes from Washington/Dulles (Las Vegas, San Diego and Burbank) and two nonstop runs from Boston (San Francisco and San Jose). In their place on the route map are shorter flights: service to Cancun from Tampa (beginning December 18) and Dulles (December 20), and three daily flights between San Francisco and Long Beach beginning November 2. Meanwhile, AirTran is bailing on its Savannah-Atlanta route, which it has flown for more than a decade, dating back to its ValuJet days. In its place? Service to Columbus, Ohio, the home of the now-defunct Skybus. Beginning November 6, AirTran will fly twice a day to Atlanta, once a day to Fort Myers and once a day to Orlando. Effective November 20, the airline will also operate a daily route between Orlando and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Hilton Fiddles With HHonors Elite Benefits and Rules
Hilton Hotels is making some changes to its HHonors frequent guest plan. For starters, beginning January 1, elite status will now have to be earned in a calendar year rather than on a rolling, 12-month basis. It is also standardizing elite-status benefits at its Hilton, Conrad and Doubletree hotels worldwide. HHonors Gold and Diamond members can choose one of three options: an upgrade to the executive floor, free Internet access or 1,000 bonus points. The latter change takes effect immediately. Frontier Airlines has joined the Big Six in trying to beat revenue from its most loyal flyers. Effective September 15, claiming an EarlyReturns award will cost $25. Awards claimed within 14 days of departure will also require a $75 "expedite" fee. And there's more: domestic roundtrip awards will cost 5,000 miles more and all other rewards will cost an additional 5,000-10,000 miles.

Another Burst of New Hotels and Flag Switches
If you're wondering who's going to be staying at all of the new hotels that are opening, you're not alone. So are the hotel companies, who've admitted that occupancy rates and room rates are softening along with the economy. So maybe some bargains are in the wind. Meanwhile, here's what's new from Starwood: a 117-room Four Points in Victoria, British Columbia, and a new aloft property in the Mill District of Minneapolis. Over at Hyatt, the first purpose-built Hyatt Place has opened in Malta, New York, near Saratoga Springs. All of the other Hyatt Place properties are conversions from Amerisuites. At InterContinental, there are two new Hotel Indigo properties in New Jersey: one in Rahway and one in Basking Ridge. And a 102-room Candlewood Suites has opened in Houston. Hilton has opened a 757-room property in Baltimore, just a block from Camden Yards. It's also connected by pedestrian walkway to Baltimore's convention center. There are notable conversions, too. The old Fresno Hilton in California has become a Holiday Inn while the former Hilton in Lake Placid, New York, has undergone a renovation and emerged as the High Peeks Resort. And the iconic Equinox resort in Manchester, Vermont, has become part of Starwood's Luxury Collection.

A New Airport Club Network Debuts, But Watch the Prices
Airport Angel is a new network of airport clubs. Airport Angel says it offers access to more than 200 airport lounges worldwide. The program, which seems aimed predominantly at flyers in the United Kingdom, has three levels of membership ranging from about $130 to $500 a year. Although it's always good to have competition, it's worth noting that Priority Pass membership costs less, has a lower per-visit fee and has twice as many clubs in its system. A newly built 150-room Sheraton hotel has opened at New York's Kennedy Airport. Clear, the registered-traveler program, has been cleared to resume enrollments. Its ability to add new members was restricted by the Transportation Security Administration last month when Clear misplaced a laptop with unencrypted information.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
After being embarrassed by negative publicity when it charged several Iraq-bound soldiers for excess baggage, American Airlines has done the incredibly obvious. It now waives excess-bag fees for soldiers. Most other carriers have matched American's waiver, partially as a result of prodding by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Remember Maxjet, one of the all-business-class transatlantic carriers that tanked just before last Christmas? Several months ago, a sports-charter company had struck a deal to buy the carrier. Now the deal has tanked, too. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to fine American Airlines $7.1 million as a result of maintenance lapses last year. The FAA has also upheld a previously announced fine of $10.2 million against Southwest Airlines for flying uninspected planes earlier this 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.