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A BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 1-15, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli
· Brazil's War on the Truth and Joe Sharkey
· Still Another Blizzard of New Hotels Open
· Is This the 'End' of Midwest Airlines?
· Not a Great Week to Be British Airways
· A Freebie for Diamond Gold Passport Members
· U.S. Helicopter Stops Flying (Ahem!) for Now
· The Big Six Invent a New Fare Surcharge
Brazil's War on the Truth, Free Speech--and Joe Sharkey
Three years ago this week, a Boeing 737 collided with a corporate jet in the skies over the Amazon. All 154 souls aboard the Gol jet perished. Among the survivors on the corporate jet was Joe Sharkey, the business-travel columnist of The New York Times who was on the flight working on a magazine assignment. As any journalist would, Sharkey immediately wrote about the mid-air tragedy for The Times and even began a separate blog about the crash's bizarre aftermath. The result? A torrent of abuse from the Brazilian authorities and the thin-skinned Brazilian media. Sharkey dished it out as good as he got, especially on his blog, but his reporting, commentary and sarcasm was almost always on point: Brazil's air-traffic control system, especially over the Amazon, is inferior and dangerous, a conclusion reached by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and every other neutral observer. But now the Brazilians are mounting a startling new attack on Sharkey, the truth and free speech. Sharkey has been hit with a lawsuit in Brazil that claims he insulted the "dignity" of the country. The suit would be laughable--it says he wrote things that he never wrote and even claims there's a "rumor" about his supposed real purpose for being on the corporate jet--except for one small point: A U.S. law firm arranged for Sharkey to be served at his New Jersey home and there is the slightest possibility that a Brazilian judgment against him could be enforced in the United States. You can read about the attack on Sharkey in the latest issue of Editor & Publisher magazine, in a post on his High Anxiety blog and at the Committee to Protect Journalists. As a matter of full disclosure, I consider Sharkey a friend. I link to his blog right off the JoeSentMe home page. I was the guy who convinced him to blog about business travel in the first place. And I'm proud of all of those things.
The Pipeline Continues to Gush Out New Properties
It's almost laughable now that nationwide hotel occupancy is hovering just north of 50 percent and average nightly rates have fallen about 20 percent in the last year, but the lodging pipeline continues to gush forth with new properties. Consider this week's offerings: Marriott has opened two new properties, a 131-unit Residence Inn and 124-room Courtyard near the Rim Shopping center in San Antonio. … A 133-room Country Inns has opened in Long Island City in the New York borough of Queens. … Starwood has opened three new international properties: a 124-room Four Points by Sheraton in Cambridge, Ontario; the 111-room Le Meridien in Panama City, Panama; and the 473-room W in Barcelona. Starwood has also converted the Princeville Resort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai into a St. Regis hotel after a $100 million renovation.
Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of Midwest Airlines?
Republic Airways, the privately owned holding company that runs a passel of commuter airlines and this year bought both Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines, has begun dismantling Midwest. Republic this week laid off the flight crews who had been manning Midwest's Boeing 717s, aircraft that will be banished from the Midwest operation. The B717s will be replaced by regional jets owned by Republic and by Airbus A319s owned by Frontier. By the end of the year, Midwest will exist in name only since all of its routes will be operated by Republic regional jets or Frontier aircraft. One related note: Frontier officially emerged from bankruptcy this week and Republic completed its acquisition of the once-independent carrier based in Denver.
Not a Particularly Great Week to Be British Airways
Not only is British Airways absorbing blowback from the announcement that even many business-class flyers now have to pay if they want an advance seat assignment, but the carrier's experiment with all-business-class flights between London/City Airport (LCY) and New York's Kennedy airport is also off to a murky start. Let's start with the seat-assignment flap. BA finally posted details of the charge, which begins on October 7. Virtually everyone flying coach and World Traveler Plus (premium economy) will pay $30 if they want to choose a seat more than 24 hours out. Want an exit row seat? That'll be $75. The site claims all but "fully flexible" business-class fares are subject to a $90 a segment advance-seat fee. However, corporately negotiated rates, which are used by many business travelers, are also apparently exempt. Oh, another twist: Paid seat selection can only be purchased by phone, not via BA's Web site. As for the new all-business-class service, you probably know that the London/City-Kennedy westbound flight makes a refueling stop in Shannon. BA has promised a 45-minute turn that includes clearing U.S. customs and immigration. But it hasn't quite delivered on the first three days of service. The launch flight on Tuesday (September 29) made a 46-minute stop. Yesterday's flight, however, was plagued by mechanical trouble in London and sat at Shannon for 51 minutes. Today (October 1), without mechanical issues, the flight made a 54-minute stop. One other note: BA has configured the Airbus A318 with just 32 seats, but it isn't the standard British Airways Club World product. No details on seat width and pitch are yet available, however.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Diamond level members of Hyatt Gold Passport take note: Hyatt has quietly deposited a freebie in your account. Until December 31, you can claim a free night at a Hyatt Place or Summerfield Suites hotel. … US Helicopter has stopped flying between Kennedy Airport, Newark Airport and New York City's heliports. The carrier, which launched almost four years ago, says it is seeking new financing. Don't hold your breath. … An investment firm claims that it is prepared to relaunch Clear, the registered-travel program that tanked in June. Don't hold your breath. … And lest you think the Big Six have run out of things to surcharge, consider this: The carriers have added a $10 "miscellaneous fee" to all fares purchased for travel on November 29, January 2 and January 3.
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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.