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A BRIEFING FOR FEB. 19 TO MARCH 5, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· Premium-Class Plummet Reaches the Pacific
· Delta Decides to Bulk Up in Salt Lake City
· Southwest Fills Another Gap: Boston/Logan
· Just What We Needed: More New Hotels
· Sirius XM Skirts Bankruptcy--and Raises Rates
· Another Trial for 2006 Transatlantic 'Plotters'
· JetBlue's 'Promise' Reeks of Promotional Hype


The Premium-Class Plummet Reaches the Pacific
Premium-class traffic has been collapsing since last August and December, the latest month for which figures are available, was no different. According to IATA, the global airline trade association, premium-class traffic in December fell 13.3 percent following an 11.5 percent decline in November. The weakness had been predominantly across the Atlantic in recent months, but now the slump has reached the Pacific market, too. Transpacific premium traffic fell 19.7 percent in December and 17.3 percent on routes between Europe and the Far East. Intra-Asia premium traffic fell even faster, dropping 25 percent in December. These numbers haven't gone unnoticed by the region's major airlines, either. Singapore Airlines announced this week that it will reduce capacity by 11 percent in the coming months. Included in the cuts: the end of Vancouver-Seoul-Singapore flights in April. And it's logical to assume that Singapore Air won't be resuming daily service on its ultra-long-haul nonstops to Singapore from Newark and Los Angeles. (The frequency was reduced to five times weekly earlier this year.) Qantas and Virgin Blue, the two major Australian carriers, are also scaling back in the region, although Qantas is not cutting flights to the United States and Virgin Blue's V Australia subsidiary is still scheduled to launch Sydney-Los Angeles service next week.

Delta Decides to Bulk Up in Salt Lake City
After hacking away at its domestic route system since its 2005 bankruptcy, Delta Air Lines is reversing course a bit at its Salt Lake City hub. On June 4, Delta starts nonstop flights to eight additional cities. There will be daily MD-90 flights to Indianapolis and Nashville and new regional-jet nonstops to Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota; Des Moines; El Paso; Milwaukee; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In a cutback last year, Delta had stopped flying from Salt Lake City to Des Moines, El Paso and Sioux Falls. The 224-room former Holiday Inn at 3300 West Mockingbird Lane in Dallas has been reflagged as a Wyndham. West Mockingbird is one of the streets adjacent to Dallas/Love Field. A 91-room Holiday Inn Express has opened near Ottawa International Airport. A second Hilton Garden Inn has opened at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.

Southwest Airlines Fills Another Gap: Boston/Logan
Southwest Airlines says that it won't be expanding this year, a departure from its actions in previous downturns. But its overall strategy apparently won't stop the 800-pound gorilla of discount carriers from plugging some big gaps in its route map. It will launch flights to New York/LaGuardia later this year after buying take-off and landing slots that once belonged to ATA Airlines. And this week Southwest announced that it will be launching flights to Boston/Logan Airport, too. The airline didn't disclose specific service details, but said it will us two gates at Logan. Southwest has been surrounding Boston, the primary gateway for New England flyers, for several years. In 1996, it launched flights to Providence, Rhode Island; two years later, it added flights to Manchester, New Hampshire. JetBlue Airways generated lots of publicity this week with its "promise" to refund tickets for people who lose their jobs. But one look at the terms and conditions shows that the program is mostly a promotional ploy.

The Hotels Keep Coming (Even Though They're Not Needed)
Almost half of the nation's hotel rooms are now empty--occupancy rates last week dropped to 55 percent--yet new properties continue to open because the big chains can't plug the development pipeline. Hilton, for example, has opened a 210-room Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Hyatt has opened a 346-room property in Seattle and a 567-room hotel in Sha Tin, in the New Territories area of Hong Kong. Also in China, Renaissance has opened a 684-room hotel in a 60-story high rise in the Cloud Nine commercial complex. The lobby is on the 25th floor. And there are two more hotels in overbuilt Arizona, too. Starwood has opened an Aloft hotel in Tempe and Radisson has opened a 154-room property in Yuma. The Don Shula Golf Club in Miami Lakes, Florida, has been reflagged as a Hotel Indigo.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
A group of mobile-phone makers says it will standardize handsets so that they can use common AC chargers. The group includes Nokia, Motorola and Samsung and two wireless carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile. The consortium promises to introduce the standardized chargers by 2012. Sirus XM, the satellite-radio firm, avoided a bankruptcy filing this week after a short-term injection of capital by a company controlled by media mogul John Malone. But XM Radio users note: Desperate to raise cash and convert monthly users into annual subscribers, XM will increase prices for additional radios and online access on March 11. XM promises to hold existing rates for any user who prepays for annual subscriptions. In London, eight men accused of a 2006 plot to blow up several transatlantic flights have gone on trial for a second time. Their first trial ended in the British equivalent of a hung jury. The alleged plot is what led security officials worldwide to impose the 3-1-1 rule for liquids in carry-on bags.
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 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.