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A BRIEFING FOR SEPT. 25 TO OCT. 9, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· American Airlines Renames the Lipstick on a Pig
· JetBlue's JFK Terminal Delayed Three Weeks
· The Big Six Dribble Out New Overseas Service
· The Financial Crisis and Your Travel Dollar
· Continental Restores 500-Mile Minimum for Elites
· Turkish Airlines Restarts Service to Baghdad
· Great! Let's Make an Airline Too Big to Fail, Too


American Airlines Renames the Lipstick on a Pig
Facing passenger blowback for its worst-in-the-nation on-time record and alarmingly high cancellation and lost-baggage rates, American Airlines and its American Eagle commuter subsidiary are rolling out a "new" product at some of their major airports: PriorityAAccess. Available to elite members of American AAdvantage and full-fare and premium-class flyers, PriorityAAccess includes: dedicated check-in areas at ticket counters; special security-screening lanes; and fast-track boarding privileges. If those perks sound familiar, it's because they already exist at American's hub airports. American is simply repackaging the benefits as PriorityAAccess and renaming the lipstick already on the pig. Meanwhile, American will try to get back on schedule by padding its flight times by as much as 20 minutes. The added time is designed to get the flights operating closer to their published schedules and give American's depleted core of ground crews more time to move luggage. US Airways used the stretched flight schedule ploy earlier this year to shoot to the top of the government's on-time ratings, which aren't based on timeliness as much as meeting the schedules, no matter how artificially padded.

JetBlue's New JFK Terminal Delayed Three Weeks
Just days before it was due to open on October 1, JetBlue Airways has pushed back the opening of its new terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport. The three-week delay, announced late today (September 25), is apparently due to issues with the terminal's 55,000-square-foot retail plaza. It will encompass 22 dining locations and 25 retail shops. A much-anticipated feature is the ability to order meals from special computer terminals at the departure gates and have food delivered to you. A new parking facility and JFK's AirTrain service is accessible from covered walkways. However, a connection to JFK's iconic Terminal 5, which once housed TWA, won't be ready until the airport authorities renovate Eero Saarinen's masterpiece. … Radisson SAS has opened a 330-room hotel across from Terminal 1 at Zurich Airport. … United Airlines is pulling out of Palmdale, a Los Angeles-area airport that has been trying to build passenger service. United launched service from Palmdale in June, 2007, and received financial considerations for using the airport for 18 months. It will depart on December 6, as soon as the financial support ends. No other airline currently operates from Palmdale. … A shop dedicated to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver has opened at Vancouver Airport in British Columbia, Canada.

The Big Six Dribble Out New Overseas Service
As they continue to cut flights domestically, the Big Six are pinning their fading hopes for profit on new international service. Continental Airlines, for example, says it will launch seasonal flights between its Houston hub and Rio de Janeiro on December 17. It has also scheduled a March 26 launch for its Newark-Shanghai nonstops. The daily service will operate with Boeing 777-300s. Meanwhile, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are targeting Brazil and the Caribbean. Over at American, there'll be five weekly flights between Chicago and Montego Bay, Jamaica, beginning January 31. And effective November 2, it will add flights from its Miami hub to three Brazilian cities: Belo Horizonte; Salvador de Bahia and Recife. Delta adds weekly flights from New York/Kennedy to Bonaire on December 20. A day earlier, it launches flights from its Atlanta hub and Manaus and Recife. The Recife flight will then continue on to Fortaleza.

The Financial Crisis and Your Travel Dollar
Want some idea of how the financial crisis is affecting your travel dollar? Okay, let's start with the price of oil, which affects the price of everything else. Last week, it had dropped as low as $91 a barrel. This week it leapt back to around $120 a barrel before closing today (September 25) at $107. The state of the dollar? The greenback had clawed its way back to about $1.75 to the British pound, up from a low this year of $2.03. Now it has sagged back to $1.83. The dollar had made its way back to $1.40 to the euro (down from a record around $1.60 earlier this year), but it closed yesterday at $1.46. Want some other thoughts? Good news: the Wall Street meltdown means New York hotel rates might decline from the stratospheric heights they have reached this year. Bad news: ILFC, the world's largest aircraft-leasing firm, is owned by AIG, which the government bailed out earlier this month. ILFC has had to draw down the entire $6.5 billion available to it from revolving credit agreements. That will undoubtedly increase the cost of planes that airlines may rent in the future from ILFC. And higher aircraft costs means higher fares.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines has reinstated a 500-mile minimum for elite OnePass members. … Watch for American Airlines to use two-class Boeing 757s on some transatlantic routes. The airline is currently reconfiguring 18 of them with the carrier's newish business-class chairs. There'll be 16 seats in business class and 166 seats in coach. … Turkish Airlines is resuming its Istanbul-Baghdad route after an 18-year hiatus. The flights, which ended during the 1991 Gulf War, will operate three times a week. Service restarts on October 26. … Qantas will not have live Internet service on its new Airbus A380s when it puts the super-jumbos in service later this year. A380 flights from Los Angeles begin on November 1 and there will be some limited text messaging and E-mail service. … I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so: Despite endless media hype surrounding Kate Hanni and her passenger's rights movement, Congress has once again decided to do nothing about the matter.

Great! Let's Make an Airline Too Big to Fail, Too…
You'll be absolutely thrilled to learn that shareholders of Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines today (September 25) officially approved their long-planned merger. Although the combination still requires the blessing of the Justice Department, a Northwest-Delta merger would create the world's largest airline. Or, in current financial parlance, another gigantic, lumbering entity that politicians would decide is too big to fail.
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.