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A BRIEFING FOR MARCH 26-APRIL 2, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· Air France Adds a Premium Economy Cabin
· Yes, Virginia, The Hotel Industry Is Suicidal
· AirTran Adds Atlantic City to Its Route Network
· United Drops Another Perk, Finds Another Fee
· Northwest Shifting to Delta Airport Locations
· Emirates Moves A380 to Toronto From New York
· Virgin America Adds a Fee for First Checked Bag


Air France Adds a Premium Economy Cabin
Air France is joining the ranks of carriers adding a fourth cabin, premium economy, on its long-haul flights. The so-called Premium Voyageur section launches on April 1 on flights from Paris to New York/Kennedy, Tokyo and Osaka. The cabin will feature a "fixed shell" seat that reclines in its own housing rather than into the space of the passenger in the row behind. The chair is 18.9 inches wide, reclines 123 degrees and offers 38 inches of legroom. In-flight service is a hybrid: Passengers in the new cabin receive a standard coach meal with some business-class perks such as an amenities kit. The chairs are equipped with 10-inch monitors and an on-demand audio-video system. Travelers who pay the premium economy fare, starting at an all-in price of about $1,430 roundtrip between New York and Paris, can use dedicated check-in desks and receive priority boarding and larger checked-baggage allowance. By the way, the launch cities for the premium economy cabin are not kismet. Air France's competitors on the Japanese routes, Japan Airlines and All Nippon, already have premium economy service. And Open Skies, the British Airlines boutique carrier that flies to Paris from Newark and Kennedy, sells advance-purchase business-class seats for about the same fare that Air France will charge for premium economy.

Yes, Virginia, The Hotel Industry Is Suicidal
Facing record declines in occupancy, nightly rates and the crucial REVPAR (revenue per available room) category, the hotel industry continues to open hotels that were put into the development pipeline before the recession. Who, exactly, will stay in these hotels is anyone's guess. But here's this week's roster of notable newbies. A 120-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened on the site of the old Milford jai alai fronton in Connecticut. And a joint Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites has opened in Hanover, Maryland, not far from Baltimore-Washington Airport. The complex offers 250 rooms and suites, 151 of which are branded Garden Inn and 99 of which are considered Homewood Suites. Marriott has long offered multi-brand complexes in some markets. Internationally, a 202-room Hyatt Regency property has opened in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. A 282-room Ritz-Carlton has opened in Shenzhen, China. A Doubletree Guest Suites hotel has opened in Paracas, Peru. And Marriott's Courtyard brand has returned to England with the conversion of a 213-room property near London's Gatwick Airport.

AirTran Adds Two Routes to Its Network
It's hard to keep up with the AirTran Airways route network. The carrier adds and drops routes with blazing speed based on its assessment of market conditions. But here are two notable additions: AirTran will add flights between its Atlanta hub and Atlantic City on June 11. The two daily roundtrips are the first new service into the troubled New Jersey gaming community in quite some time and AirTran will be the only carrier there save the despicable, unflyable Spirit Airlines. AirTran is also resuming flights from Washington/National to its small, but growing, hub in Milwaukee. There'll be two flights a day starting on June 11. Mokulele Airlines, the newest Hawaii inter-island carrier, has survived its cash crunch thanks to an infusion of funds from Republic, the commuter airline that handles a lot of Mokulele's flying. Republic now owns half of Mokulele and essentially runs the carrier. The first new initiative: four daily flights between Honolulu and Hilo, Hawaii's second-largest city. Service begins on June 1 using 70-seat regional jets operated by Republic under the Mokulele banner.

United Drops Another Perk--and Finds Another Fee to Charge
Threadbare, clueless United Airlines hasn't had much to recommend it lately, but one thing the carrier still had going for it was a free ticket repricing policy. Unlike its Big Six brethren, United would rewrite your ticket without charge if a lower fare became available on your flight. But no more. United now charges its standard ticket-change fee whenever you find a lower price and ask the carrier to refare your original seat. Depending on the itinerary, the fee is as high as $300. For your information, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines still do free refares. Virgin America is gushing cash and desperately scrambling for ways to generate revenue. Its solution? Join the legion of carriers that charge for the first checked bag. It now charges $15 to check a bag for most coach customers. First-class flyers are exempt, as are travelers who purchase refundable coach fares or bump up to the carrier's Main Cabin Select service. Ryanair now charges you for the privilege of doing business with it. Effective May 1, travelers checking in on the Web for Ryanair flights will pay 5 euros or 5 British pounds. Ryanair already charges as much as 20 pounds or 20 euros to check in at the airport. Aircell, which is slowly wiring American, Delta and Virgin America planes with in-flight WiFi, is changing some of its pricing. Travelers using WiFi-enabled phones now will pay a flat fee of $7.95 a segment for in-flight Internet. Computer users pay between $9.95 and $12.95 a flight, depending on the length of the segment.

Northwest Shifts More Flights to Delta's Airport Locations
The integration of Northwest Airlines into Delta Air Lines is beginning to pick up speed, so check your arrangements carefully if you're flying the combined carriers. Earlier this week, Northwest moved its flights at Raleigh/Durham to Delta's location in Terminal 2 and now both carriers operate their flights from Gates C7 to C15. And next week Northwest's flights at Boston/Logan move to Delta's digs in Terminal A. The exception: Northwest's Boston-Amsterdam nonstops, which will continue to use Terminal E, where Logan's immigrations and customs facilities are located. British Airways flights from Atlanta/Hartsfield to London switch to Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport this weekend. The flights are moving permanently from Gatwick Airport. Emirates is dropping its Airbus A380 flights at New York/Kennedy and moving the gargantuan aircraft to the Toronto-Dubai route on June 1. Government treaties restrict Emirates to three weekly flights to Toronto and the extra capacity is needed. On the other hand, Emirates flies between New York and Dubai twice a day and the 498-seat A380, launched to New York last year, added too much capacity. Emirates is replacing the A380 with smaller Boeing 777-300ERs.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
For those of you planning to follow Continental Airlines into the Star Alliance, please note: Continental still has no firm date for entry. All that's written in stone at the moment is Continental's exit from SkyTeam, which is scheduled for October 24. Expedia and Travelocity have dropped their service fees for booking airline tickets. Both online agencies claim the move is temporary, but don't look for the extra charge to return anytime soon. Tennis players take note: The European Community Court has essentially nullified the ban on taking tennis rackets as carry-on luggage. The ban has been in effect since 2003, but the court threw out the prohibition because no rule was ever published and passengers were never told tennis rackets were considered verboten. Speaking of security and stupidity, the friendly, neighborhood bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration have done it again. The agency now admits it will miss the 2010 deadline for screening all cargo on incoming international flights. The TSA has been fighting the Congressional mandate since it was passed in 2007, just as it has fought or ignored every law passed by Congress to force it to conduct certain security activities.
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.