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A BRIEFING FOR JUNE 10 TO JUNE 24, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli
· Delta's Second-Class First-Class Expansion
· Spring Strikes Over, BA Faces Summer Strikes
· Downtown Seattle Gets Two More Chain Hotels
· It's a Secret: Spirit Faces a Strike This Weekend
· More WiFi for Amtrak, No WiFi for Continental · Jo'Burg Airport Gets a High-Speed Rail Link
· The Euro Leaps Back Above the $1.20 Level
Delta's Second-Class Domestic First-Class Expansion
Delta Air Lines was breathless with excitement on Thursday (June 10) as it announced a "major enhancement" of its domestic schedule: "first-class service on flights longer than 750 miles." But the supposed enhancement is much less than any sane business traveler could wish for. In fact, it's little more than the installation of faux first-class cabins on the tinny, tiny regional jets that Delta's commuter carriers operate for the airline. It's not that Delta is alone in this. American Airlines announced first-class service for some of its RJs in March (see our coverage here) and both AA and DL are merely mimicking United Airlines, which has been flying RJs with a supposed first-class cabin for several years. But Delta's faux first class will be even more phony than United and American. The carrier's current RJs kitted out with first offer seats with just 35 inches of legroom. The industry standard in coach is 31 inches, Southwest offers 32 and most JetBlue standard coach seats offer 34 inches of legroom. Like American, Delta says in-flight service on its regional jets will mimic the first-class service offered aboard its traditional domestic aircraft. Delta has posted a list of 50 routes where the new cabins will be available by the fall and you can see the specifics here. Give it a look and fondly remember the days when airlines used real equipment on 1,000+ mile routes such as Atlanta-Portland, Maine; Cincinnati-Denver; Detroit-San Antonio; and New York/LaGuardia-Omaha.
BA's Spring Strikes Are Over. Now Come BA's Summer Strikes.
The last round of the current series of flight attendants' strikes against British Airways ended on Wednesday (June 9). But nothing was settled, so guess what? BA now faces a summer of strikes. Unite, the union that represents most of BA's flight attendants, is required by British law to take a new strike vote before mounting further work stoppages. Planning for the vote is in "advanced stages," says the union. And since the union has had overwhelming support for strikes in all previous votes, there's no reason to think strikes won't resume as early as mid July and last until who knows when. The flight attendants have struck for a total of 22 days since March. The battle is over unilateral concessions, work-rules changes and pay arrangements that BA imposed last year. The airline says the concessions would save it about 62 million pounds a year. By its own reckoning, the strikes have cost the carrier about 150 million pounds and some experts say BA has also sacrificed another 1.4 billion in revenue. So here's the question: What traveler in his or her right mind would book BA now with still more work stoppages on the horizon? On the other hand, there is a glimmer of hope: The BA committee that controls executive compensation has voted to increase chief executive Willie Walsh's annual bonus to 100 percent of his salary. But there's a string attached: He has to settle the strike. So let's see how fast Walsh gets flexible now that his salary is on the line now, too.
Downtown Seattle Gets Two More Moderately Priced Chain Hotels
No one would argue that downtown Seattle--or downtown anywhere--needs more hotels, but business travelers looking for iterations of their favorite mid-priced chains in the Emerald City now have more choice. Hyatt Place has opened a 160-room outlet on 6th Avenue North near Denny Way. Not too far away, in Pioneer Square, a 222-room Courtyard by Marriott has opened in the historic, turn-of-the-century Alaska Building. There are four other new Marriott properties to add to your mix this week: a 128-room Residence Inn adjacent to the conference center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; a 72-room Fairfield Inn in Redding, California; and new branches of Courtyard in central Budapest, Hungary, and a second location in St. Petersburg, Russia. An 81-room Candlewood Suites has opened on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, about halfway between SeaWorld and Six Flags. Because, you know, everything is halfway to something in Texas
Spirit Faces a Strike This Week. And You Fly These Guys Because?
Spirit Airlines has already canceled some flights scheduled to operate this weekend, but in its typically secretive and squirrelly fashion. Spirit apparently doesn't want passengers to know that it faces a strike by its pilots starting on Saturday (June 12). As of the close of business today (June 10), Spirit has made no mention of the strike on its Web site nor has it posted a reaccommodation policy for customers who might be caught in the strike. Scheduled to fly Spirit and want to cancel your reservations? Too bad, says Spirit. It's business as usual. If you cancel before they cancel, you must pay the standard penalties of $100 or more. Flyers who have called the airline's reservation line say Spirit agents insist flights will operate normally. The airline officially claims that the strike won't affect operations because it has arranged with other carriers to service its passengers. Spirit won't give any details, however. Of course, last month, when the National Mediation Board released the two sides into a 30-day cooling off period that ends at midnight Friday (June 11), Spirit said it might shut down forever if the pilots went on strike. If you're due to fly on Spirit in the next few days, I have a simple question: Why are you flying this sad excuse for an airline anyway? Here's the company's reservations line: 800-772-7117. Lots of luck. You're going to need it. By the way, Spirit and its pilots have been negotiating for three years without coming to an agreement.
More WiFi for Amtrak and Delta, None for Continental
Amtrak says the three-month test of WiFi on its Acela Express East Coast Corridor trains has convinced the rail system to expand the availability of the service. WiFi will continue to be free on Acela trains, it will be added to the slower "regional" trains on the runs between Boston and Washington and will also be installed on trains in California. On the flip side, however, it looks like Continental Airlines won't be installing Gogo's in-flight WiFi service any time soon. The airline announced a test of the WiFi system in January and said it would wire 21 Boeing 757s by the second quarter. But an internal memo claims the service has been delayed until Continental could work through "connectivity solutions in the context of a merged carrier." Continental is due to merge with United Airlines, which uses Gogo on its transcontinental p.s. flights. ... Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines says 500 of its domestic aircraft are now wired for Gogo's WiFi. You can get details here.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Just in time for the Fifa World Cup soccer tournament that starts in South Africa tomorrow (June 11), a new high-speed train has opened to connect Johannesburg Airport with the Sandton suburban business and residential district. The so-called Gautrain makes the run in 15 minutes. Priority Pass members take note: The airport-lounge access program has added clubs in Dusseldorf; Vancouver; Nassau in the Bahamas; and Hyderabad, India. After briefly dropping below $1.20 to the U.S. dollar, its lowest level in more than four years, the euro is trading around $1.22 again.
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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.