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A BRIEFING FOR MARCH 4 - 18, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli

· American's 'First Class' Solution to Tiny RJs
· Continental Airlines Will Sell Exit Row Seats
· Starwood Devalues SPG by Standing Still
· United Aligns Mileage Plus to OnePass
· A Sudden Boost in Service to Africa
· Hilton Opens a Garden Inn in New Delhi
· The Euro Tumbles Against the Greenback


American's 'First Class' Solution to Tinny, Tiny RJs
The 700 series of regional jets is only slightly less offensive than the 37- and 50-seat RJs operated by the commuter affiliates of the major carriers. And now American Eagle, the wholly-owned commuter subsidiary of American Airlines, wants us to believe that flying a 70-seat RJ will be just peachy because there will now be a "first-class" cabin on the planes. Matching arch-rival United, Eagle will retrofit 25 of its existing CRJ-700s with a first-class cabin and take delivery of 22 new ones with first class already installed. The new cabin, which debuts July 2, will feature nine seats in a 1-2 layout. Seats will have 37 inches of legroom and be 19.5 inches wide between the armrests. (The new cabin means the planes will now have 63 or 65 seats in total.) Jon Snook, senior vice president of customer service, says Eagle's first-class service will match AA's mainline cabins. "The mission I've got is to make Eagle's first-class service have the look and feel of the first-class cabin of our mainline jets. And when American serves a meal in first, Eagle will service a meal in first." Most of the two-class RJs will fly from American's Chicago/O'Hare hub. They'll be used both as a replacement for larger jets on some routes currently served by American and in combination with full-size American jets on other routes.

Continental Will Sell Exit Row Seats. Woe to Silver Elites.
Continental Airlines has embarked on a "pizza strategy," the odd theory that posits passengers will pay more on an la carte basis for stuff that is currently bundled into the airfares. Its latest initiative: selling exit rows for mysterious prices that the carrier won't reveal and admits will be on a what-the-market-will-bear scale. Effective March 17, Continental says these so-called "premium seat assignments" will be for sale because they have as much as seven inches of extra legroom. The good news: Gold and Platinum Elite members of OnePass will still be able to choose those exit-row seats for free at the time they make their reservation. The bad news: regular travelers and even Silver Elite OnePass members will be forced to pay. That's assuming any of those seats are available 24 hours before departure. Details on the program are here. The Greek debt crisis is playing havoc with the value of the euro. Before Christmas, the euro was worth about $1.52. Now it is down to around $1.35.

Starwood Devalues SPG by Standing Still. United Stands Still.
If you have any doubt at all that hotel chains are getting as good as the airlines at playing shell games with their frequency programs, you can disabuse yourself of that quaint notion. As you surely know by now, hotel frequent-stay award charts are based on each hotel's "average daily rate" (ADR). When the rate goes up, the price you pay in points goes up because the hotel chains raise the charge in line with the increase. But what happens when the average daily rate goes down? You guessed it: Hotel chains have a different take. Hilton HHonors raised their award prices for 2010, claiming the 20 percent devaluation was overdue. Now comes word that Starwood Preferred Guest will not be making any changes in its 2010 rewards chart. This despite a 2009 ADR decline in the range of 15-20 percent. Starwood's explanation? It's protecting you from future ADR increases. Which, of course, is not only illogical--if anything, ADRs will decrease again in 2010--but also an outright rejection of how award prices have been calculated in the past. United Airlines says it will revise the award chart for Mileage Plus on April 27, 2010. The changes, surprisingly enough, are largely neutral. Some awards have been adjusted upward and some downward. Most of the changes seem to better align Mileage Plus with Continental's OnePass program. (Continental, of course, is now United's partner in the Star Alliance.) You can view the changes and the new chart here.

A Sudden Boost in Service to Africa
Last year, Delta Air Lines announced a big increase in its service to Africa, but those plans were promptly squashed when the Transportation Security Administration decided it was in the business of telling airlines where they could fly. As a result, virtually none of Delta's service launched. But that doesn't mean it isn't getting a bit easier to get to Africa. United Airlines will launch its first Africa flights later this year with service between its Washington/Dulles hub and Accra, Ghana. Daily flights begin on June 20. And Brussels Airlines, now a subsidiary of Lufthansa, is expanding its flights from its Brussels hub. It, too, will now fly to Accra as well as Cotonou, Benin; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Lome, Togo. The twice-weekly flights start in July.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Porter Airlines, which operates to Toronto's close-in City Airport, opens the first phase of its new terminal on Sunday (March 7). Hilton has opened its first Hilton Garden Inn in India. The 228-room property in New Delhi is close to the Connaught Place business district. Remember the closure of the main runway of New York/JFK that I mentioned last week? On Monday (March 1), the first day of the closure, the airport was crippled when high winds shut two of the remaining three runways. Delays averaged almost two hours. It's going to be a very interesting four months. The Transportation Security Administration says it is now using portable devices to swab bags as it searches for explosives. The TSA units will allow agents to circulate around the airport randomly checking anything you happen to be carrying.

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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.