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A BRIEFING FOR JUNE 24 TO JULY 8, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli

· Hotel Chains Head to Secondary Europe Markets
· How's Virgin America Doing? Not So Well, Frankly
· American Airlines Adds Two New Routes to Brazil
· The Next British Airways Strike May Hit August 3
· Spirit Forgot to Tell Flight Attendants to Work
· American Airlines Now Sells Early Boarding Perks
· OpenSkies 'Expands' Via a Deal With French Rail


Go West, Determined Hoteliers
With more than half of the guestrooms in the United States empty on an average night, hotel chains looking to expand are increasingly looking around the world for opportunities. Major chains have long been fixtures overseas, of course, but the pace of expansion in recent years has picked up dramatically. And besides the obvious growth markets--China and India--the chains are beginning to penetrate what would normally be seen as secondary markets. This week's notable examples: Hilton has opened a 150-room property in Gdansk, the chain's second in Poland. And Marriott has opened its first two hotels in Sweden: a 278-room Courtyard in Stockholm and a 128-room Renaissance in Malmo. Marriott claims it will double its portfolio in Europe in the next five years.

How's Virgin America Doing? Not So Well, Frankly
Privately held Virgin America would have you believe it's going great guns as it nears its third anniversary in August. But the facts, as reflected in the first quarter results that the airline released this week, tell a different story. Yes, the airline registered $147 million in revenue in the first quarter, a 46 percent jump compared to the first quarter of 2009. And, yes, its load factor passed 75 percent despite a huge jump in capacity. Yet it rang up $22 million in operating losses compared to $30 million in the first quarter of 2009. Its net loss for the quarter was $35 million, only fractionally better than the $40 million net loss it rang up last year. And it only has $28 million of unrestricted cash on hand. Alaska Airlines is adding St. Louis to its route network. It launches daily Boeing 737 flights from its Seattle hub on September 27. Hawaiian Airlines launches flights between Kahului, Maui, and Las Vegas on October 3. The twice-weekly nonstops will operate with two-class Boeing 767s. Spirit Airlines is back to normal operations after last week's five-day strike. But, as usual, it was slightly less than meets the eye. The first day back, Spirit operated only half of its schedule and the average delay was almost two hours. The problem wasn't the striking pilots, however. Spirit management forget to alert its furloughed flight attendants that they should come back to work.

Head South, Determined Airlines
Without much profit to be found elsewhere in the world, U.S. carriers are back to looking at underserved Latin America for opportunity. American Airlines, for example, will add 11 flights a week to Brazil in the fall. That'll cover daily flights between New York/Kennedy and Rio de Janeiro and four weekly flights between Miami and Brasilia. The service launches November 18, but American won't be operating first-class cabins on either route. The Boeing 767s (to Rio) and 757s (to Brasilia) will be configured only with business and coach classes. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines is adding daily nonstops to Mexico City from Minneapolis. Flights begin December 18 with Airbus A318s configured with first and coach cabins. Delta also says it will resume flying MSP-Paris/CDG on a year-round basis and go to daily flights on its MSP-London/Heathrow route. OpenSkies, the British Airways boutique carrier that operates to Paris/Orly from Newark and Washington/Dulles, is expanding. Sorta. It has cut a deal with the French national railroad system to offer flyers connecting TGV high-speed service to Lyons and Nantes. The transfer is free until the end of the year if you purchase tickets by September 30. There's more information here. Here we go again. The unhappy flight attendants at British Airways said this week that they will take a new strike ballot. The one-month balloting would end July 27, which means strikes against BA could resume as early as August 3. Plan your travel accordingly.

Of Course There Are More Hotels. Why Wouldn't There Be?
We don't have to go back over the meme about why hotels continue to open during the worst slide in occupancy and rates in a few generations, right? You got the "it was already in the pipeline thing," correct? So just get out your scorecard and note the arrival of: a 99-room Aloft in Winchester, Virginia; a four-story Staybridge Suites two miles from Oklahoma City Airport; and the 171-room Doubletree in Sterling, Virginia, near Dulles Airport. Meanwhile, conversions of note: a former Marriott has become the 290-room Sheraton Orlando Downtown and the former Renaissance in Syracuse, New York, is becoming a Crowne Plaza.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines is now selling early-boarding privileges, a perk formerly reserved for elite members of the American AAdvantage program. Again mimicking the United Airlines policy of selling everything except the chief executive's shoes, the so-called "Your Choice" program will get you a Group 1 boarding assignment. The line-cut charge starts at $9 and reaches $19 for a transcontinental flight. Information is here. Air France has opened a new business-class lounge at Washington/Dulles Airport. Fly to Manhattan? No, not that one. I mean Manhattan, Kansas. American Eagle, the commuter operation of American Airlines, is starting a daily nonstop between Manhattan and Dallas/Fort Worth on November 18. JetBlue Airways has begun selling snacks on its Airbus A320 flights. Nothing looks particularly unique or all that fresh. The details are here. ... ANA, the Japanese carrier, starts mobile-phone check-in on July 1. But there's a big catch. Japan uses a unique mobile-phone system, so you'll need to have a cellphone that registers on a Japanese network to use it.

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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.