E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2009 COLUMNS    ARCHIVES    SEARCH ARCHIVES
A BRIEFING FOR MARCH 5-MARCH 19, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· Lufthansa Focuses on the Airport Lounge Life
· Good News on Loyalty From Starwood, Marriott
· Airport Traffic Falls Through the Floor in February
· Clear Line-Cut Plan Loses Its Founder and CEO
· Delta Scraps Crown Room and Worldclub Names
· Got Time to Read About Daylight Saving Time?
· Palmdale Airport, We Hardly Knew Ye


Defying the Economy, Lufthansa Focuses on the Lounge Life
Lufthansa Airlines, one of the world's few healthy full-line carriers, continues to roll out stunning airport lounges. This week brings a 10,000-square-foot, two-story lounge at Washington/Dulles and a 13,000-square-foot lounge for first-class and elite-level frequent flyers at its Frankfurt hub. As you probably know, Lufthansa already operates a separate First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. The new lounge is for transfer passengers who connect in Frankfurt and might not want to go to the sybaritic separate terminal. The new Frankfurt lounge, located in the West Wing of Concourse B, is no less spectacular, however. It has a private restaurant and bar and passengers have use of private rooms with leather daybeds and private offices. There's also a spa with massage rooms and showers. The huge new Washington lounge, which comes on the heels of new Lufthansa clubs at New York/Kennedy and Detroit/Metro, is located in Concourse B and adjacent to the airline's Dulles gates. It's part of the airline's $190 million global upgrade of lounge facilities. "These types of improvements and amenities are good for our business," says Oliver Wagner, Lufthansa's worldwide head of ground services. "When we opened the First Class Terminal, our traffic increased by 20 percent. The quality of ground service is more and more of a differentiator when a [premium-class] traveler chooses a carrier."

Good News on Loyalty Programs From Starwood and Marriott
The Starwood Preferred Guest program has completed its annual property reclassification, which sets award levels for hotels based on average daily rate and other factors. The news is good this year: About 150 properties will charge fewer Starpoints for free rooms and only about 80 hotels will charge more. You can view the points cost of each Starwood property here. Marriott Rewards has added a spiffy new way to use your points: free membership in Priority Pass, the airport lounge program. Annual membership costs 20,000 points (pay per lounge visit); 55,000 points (ten free club visits); or 85,000 points (unlimited visits).

Say Goodbye to Palmdale Airport Because No One Said Hello
Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the bureaucracy that runs LAX and Ontario Airports, has given up on Palmdale Airport. The one-time military base had a brief life as a commercial airport last year when LAWA paid United Airlines to fly from Palmdale to San Francisco. United abandoned the service in December and no other carrier is interested in flying to Palmdale, about 70 miles northeast of LAX. So LAWA has closed the terminal building and is surrendering the airport's commercial-service certificate. The overcrowded Chicago hotel scene is losing two potential new properties. Shangri-La, the well-regarded Asian chain, has cancelled plans to open a Chicago branch and Marriott has exited a property meant to be the chain's first Edition hotel. Edition is a new brand Marriott is planning to build with boutique hotelier Ian Schrager. Ethiopian Airlines is scaling back its flights to the United States. It will now fly its Washington/Dulles-Addis Ababa route four times a week rather than six times weekly.

Airline Traffic Falls Through the Floor in February
Even loquacious types like yours truly are having trouble coming up with adjectives to describe how fast airline traffic is falling. So I'll just give you the February numbers, which were released to gasps this week. At American Airlines, year-over-year capacity (called available seat miles) fell 10 percent, but passenger traffic (called revenue passenger miles) fell by 13.5 percent. Delta/Northwest's combined capacity fell 7.8 percent, but its passenger traffic dropped 11 percent. (The big fall at Delta was on international routes; traffic fell 10 percent on a 1.9 percent decline in capacity.) United Airlines saw a 15.2 percent traffic decline on 14 percent less capacity. Continental's traffic dropped 13.5 percent on 9.4 percent less capacity. (Continental added that its revenue per available seat mile, a key indicator of financial performance, plunged about 12 percent.) US Airways almost looked like a winner since it at least managed to cut capacity by the same amount as its traffic declined (9.3 percent). Even the discounters are hurting: Southwest Airlines' traffic fell 6 percent on 6.5 percent less capacity. AirTran Airways was down 13.6 percent on 9.1 percent less capacity. JetBlue Airways' traffic decreased 8.3 percent on 5.5 percent less capacity.

Clearly, the Clear Program Isn't Long for The World
Steven Brill is out as chief executive of Clear, which once wanted to be a security-bypass program but has lately settled for being a $200-a-year line-cut "concierge service." Brill, the journalist/entrepreneur who founded the company and apparently was its chief financial backer, too, has kicked himself upstairs to the part-time job of vice chairman. No successor has been named. An abrasive, bull-in-the-china-shop self-promoter, Brill once expected to have Clear lanes at every major airport in the country. But he never convinced a skeptical (and outright hostile) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow Clear to offer any meaningful security bypass. That diluted Clear's appeal to both airports and travelers. (Clear currently operates at just 20 airports and only about 250,000 flyers have joined since its 2005 launch.) With Brill gone and airline traffic plummeting so fast that security lines have largely disappeared, it is hard to see how Clear can survive the TSA's antipathy and the business traveler's lack of interest for much longer.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines has come up with a new name for its airport clubs. By the end of the year, the combined network of Delta Crown Rooms and Northwest Airlines WorldClubs will be called the Delta Sky Club. Virgin Atlantic now offers an around-the-world service in conjunction with V Australia. The route starts in Los Angeles and includes stops in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. Virgin America, the U.S. carrier launched by Richard Branson, is not part of the deal. Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have settled on a $7.5 million fine for last year's missed inspections of Boeing 737 aircraft. The judge in the bankruptcy of Aloha Airlines has scrapped a deal to license the Aloha name to go!, another inter-island carrier. Irregularities in the auction process scuppered the deal. A new auction is planned.

Have You Got Time to Read This?
Folks are still flummoxed by the "spring forward, fall back" aphorism about Daylight Saving and Standard times--and it only gets more confusing now that the United States and the European Union are on different schedules. In the United States, Daylight Saving Time begins on Sunday, March 8. Move your clock one hour forward and don't forget to double-check your flight times and electronic gadgets. But remember that the European Union doesn't move to Daylight Saving Time until the last Sunday in March. And if you're ready for an, um, timely rant, surf to StandardTime.com. These folks really hate Daylight Saving Time.
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 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.