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A BRIEFING FOR JANUARY 21 TO 31, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli

· If at First You Don't Succeed, Raise Bag Fees…
· Hyatt Makes a Move on New York, Grows Andaz
· A Burst of New International Flights This Spring
· Virgin America Is An American Airline (Sort of)
· Starwood Adds Three New Hotels in China
· Amtrak Puts WiFi on Acela Express Trains
· Don't You Be Praying on My Aircraft, Boy…


If at First You Don't Succeed, Raise the Fees…
After the first full year of charging travelers for checking any bags, the five remaining legacy carriers have racked up huge annual losses. American Airlines yesterday (January 20) reported a full-year 2009 loss of $1.5 billion. Continental reported a 2009 loss of $282 million. Delta, United and US Airways release their 2009 numbers later in the month and they, too, will report big losses. On the other hand, Southwest Airlines, the lone carrier that still permits all travelers to check two bags free of charge, today reported a $99 million profit in 2009. So how have the legacy carriers reacted to their losses and Southwest's profit? They raised their baggage fees. It started with Delta, which now charges $23 for the first bag and $32 for the second if you pay online or $25 and $35 at the airport. Within a dollar or two, all of the other carriers matched. Which means more profit in 2010 for Southwest as it gets more travelers who are fed up with Big Five silliness. JetBlue, which allows one free checked bag per customer, is also expected to record a 2009 profit. But why would you think the Big Five and its apologists would understand (or even notice) the pattern?

Hyatt Makes a Move on New York--and Grows Andaz, Too
No major hotel chain is more poorly represented in the New York Metro area than Hyatt. For several years, it only had the largely uninspiring Grand Hyatt adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, a Hyatt Regency in Jersey City and, more recently, a few Hyatt Place properties in the New Jersey suburbs. But this month it has opened two new hotels, the Andaz Wall Street and, on nearby Long Island, the 123-room Hyatt Place Garden City. The 13-story, 253-room Andaz in the financial district will be followed later this year by an Andaz on Fifth Avenue. Rates at the Wall Street property start at a reasonable (for New York) $275 a night. Along with the two new Andaz properties in New York, Hyatt says it'll slap the Andaz flag on the Ivy Hotel in San Diego. That affiliation begins on February 1 and the property will be renamed (surprise!) The Andaz San Diego. That'll make four open properties with the Andaz names (the others are in London and Los Angeles) and several more in the pipeline. … Elsewhere in the hotel world, the action is overseas. Starwood has put the Luxury Collection moniker on the Hotel Paracas in Peru. It has also added three hotels in China: a Le Meridien in Xiamen; a Four Points in Tianjin; and a Westin in Shenzhen. Hilton has opened a Hilton Garden Inn in New Delhi and Marriott has opened a full-service hotel in Suzhou, China, 90 minutes from Shanghai. Finally, Four Seasons has opened its long-delayed, not-quite-finished property in Beirut.

A Burst of New Flights Come the Spring
There isn't much sign that international premium-class travel is picking up, but that hasn't stopped airlines from looking for niches to add new service. Here's what's on tap for the so-called "summer schedule" that starts in late March. … Continental Airlines will link its Newark hub with Frankfurt, the primary hub of Lufthansa, its Star Alliance partner. Daily flights begin on March 27. Meanwhile, Continental will also resume flights between Hong Kong and Guam on April 2. The twice-weekly service will be operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft. … Speaking of Lufthansa, it will begin flying between its Munich hub and Miami on March 29. Flights will operate three times a week. … Icelandair will launch three weekly flights from Orlando/Sanford to Keflavik on March 27. … Taiwan travelers take note: EVA Air will launch Taipei-Toronto flights on March 29. The three-day-a-week service will make an intermediate stop in Anchorage on the Asia-bound flights. And China Airlines will launch a Taipei-London service on March 28. That, too, will operate three times a week.

Virgin America Is American (Sort of), Says the DOT
At least for the moment, Virgin America has fought off a claim by Alaska Airlines that it is controlled by a foreigner (specifically Richard Branson), which would be a no-no under U.S. law. But the Transportation Department made the finding only after ordering Virgin America to make another series of changes to its ownership and finances. I could explain the changes, but then I'd have to kill you--or myself. The DOT order was that complicated and convoluted, which is pretty much in line with Virgin's bizarre situation. If you are somehow jazzed by financial forensics, you can view the DOT order here. … It's virtually impossible to tell Frontier Airlines and Midwest Airlines apart now that both are owned by Republic Airways. They share codes, crews, planes and, for all I know, corporate undergarments. But if you can find an actual Frontier aircraft, you should now also find a so-called "stretch" class. That's the first four rows of the plane and they feature seats with 36 to 39 inches of legroom. They are available to travelers who purchased Frontier's so-called Classic Plus fare and as an upgrade for the carrier's most elite frequent flyers. Others pay $15-to-$25 a segment. The bad news: To make room for the roomier seats up front, Frontier now flies some standard coach seats with just 30 inches of legroom.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Amtrak says it will add WiFi on its high-speed Acela Express trains that run between Washington and Boston. The service should be available by March and, at least initially, will be free. … The Transportation Department has fined United Airlines $30,000 for misleading fare advertising. It is the second infraction in the last six months, which means United has to go stand in the corner and promise to be a good corporate citizen this year. … British Airways flyers take note: The union that represents the airline's cabin crew has scheduled another strike vote for next week. That means BA could be whacked by a strike as early as March. British Airways averted a work stoppage over this past holiday season only by convincing a judge to invalidate an earlier strike vote, which had been approved by about 90 percent of the airline's flight attendants. … Some legacy carriers are trying to raise fares by as much as $16 roundtrip. Do yourself a favor and avoid buying tickets this weekend to see if the increase holds or will be rolled back on Monday.

Don't You Be Praying on My Aircraft, Boy…
A US Airways Express pilot diverted his New York/LaGuardia to Louisville flight to Philadelphia today (January 21) after a security "scare." The problem: a teenaged boy was wearing a tefillin, a Jewish prayer ornament favored by observant Jews. (Tefillin are a pair of small black boxes filled with Bible verses and are strapped to the arm and forehead.) The 17-year-old explained the tefillin's purpose, but the flight crew decided that the boxes might be dangerous and the pilot chose to abort the flight rather than run the risk someone praying.

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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 © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.