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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 7-21, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli
· Air France on Strike Tuesday, Doesn't Tell Flyers
· After Midwest, Frontier Shuffles the Flight Deck
· The Savoy Reopens After Costly, Three-Year Fix
· More WiFi Arrives, On the Ground and In the Air · Better Economy Means More International Flights
· Red Carpet Clubs Offer Free Booze and Free WiFi
· The Soap Opera at the Pittsburgh Hotel Continues
Air France Goes on Strike Next Week, But Doesn't Tell Flyers
We've gotten used to airline arrogance and hubris, but Air France continues to raise the stakes. The carrier's unions have announced that they will join France's one-day strike on Tuesday, October 12. That will all but certainly ground Air France, but has management deigned to mention it to travelers? Nope. Not a single line of warning has appeared on the airline's U.S. Web site as of Thursday evening (October 7). Nor has the Air France U.S. Twitter feed bothered to make note of the fact. The strike will also affect Delta Air Lines flights that code-share with Air France flights to, from or through Air France's hub at Paris' Charles DeGaulle Airport. (Delta hasn't bothered to publicly mention the strike, either.) Tuesday is likely to be an especially brutal day in France since the nation's railroad workers have declared an open-ended strike beginning October 12. The fight is over massive cutbacks to the state-run national pension system imposed by the government of President Nicholas Sarkozy. Tuesday's strike will be France's fourth widespread work stoppage in the last 90 days.
After Midwest, Frontier Shuffles the Flight Deck
Midwest Airlines is now officially out of business. At least in the sense that all flights are now being marketed as Frontier Airlines, the other carrier that commuter operator Republic Holdings purchased out of bankruptcy last year. What this "new" Frontier offers is anyone's guess--and anyone's guess on a flight-by-flight basis--since Republic is mixing and matching Midwest (mostly Boeing 717s and commuter regional jets) and old Frontier aircraft (mostly Airbus A318s, A319s and A320s) and blending in Republic's own EMB-170 and 190 planes. Needless to say, caveat emptor is now the rule when booking anything under the Frontier Airlines logo or code (F9). Meanwhile, the airline says that it will begin flying from Omaha to three new cities: Los Angeles (beginning February 14); Orlando (January 15); and San Diego (January 16). The nonstops will operate with EMB-190s configured with standard coach and four rows of "stretch" seating. The airline also says it will move its Houston flights to Hobby Airport (HOU) from Bush Intercontinental (IAH) on November 18. Looking further ahead, Frontier says it will add seasonal A-319 flights between Denver and Liberia, Costa Rica, beginning February 13.
There'll Always Be an England--and an Overhyped Savoy
Insanely over budget and months late, The Savoy hotel in London reopens for business this weekend. A three-year, 220 million pound renovation leaves the historic property with 268 guestrooms, including 38 new "river" rooms and suites with views of The Thames. Some of the hotel's public areas won't reopen until next month, however. The 121-year-old property is now managed by Fairmont and, despite the hype, the London lodging scene survived just fine without the grand dame on The Strand. This week's newbies: a 118-room Four Points by Sheraton in Galveston, Texas; a 267-room Courtyard by Marriott in Suzhou, China; and a 188-room Doubletree by Hilton in Novosibirsk, Russia. This week's conversions: The former Westin City Center in Dallas is now the Marriott City Center. The former Hilton Columbia in suburban Maryland is now the Doubletree Columbia. And the 140-room Grand Hotel Minneapolis is now managed by Kimpton.
More WiFi, On the Ground and In the Air
Remember Kinko's? The name, if not the storefront locations, disappeared shortly after FedEx bought the operation back in 2003. Now the renamed FedEx Office locations are offering free WiFi. That's more than 1,000 new, free hotspots, many of them in prime midtown and office-park locations. Boingo Wireless, which offers 125,000 hotspots as part of its pay-to-play network, expands again. More than 150 hotspots maintained by MTS in the Canadian province of Manitoba, have become part of Boingo's network. Singapore Airlines says that it will add WiFi connectivity to its Airbus A380, A340-500 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The rollout begins during the first half of next year. Singapore will use OnAir. No pricing was announced.
A Slightly Better Economy Means Many More International Flights
International service is trendy--and apparently profitable--again. How else to explain the new burst of overseas flights after two years of sharp cutbacks? Some of the new service is a restoration of previously cut flights as part of a new airline alliance deal. (See this week's Brancatelli File.) But some of it is genuinely new stuff. To wit: Lufthansa says it is making its Montreal-Munich route a year-round operation. There'll be five flights a week in the winter and daily service in the summer. Transaero Airlines, a private Russian carrier, has set October 29 as the launch date for its first U.S. service. There will be four weekly flights between New York/Kennedy and Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. The next day, Transaero starts a Moscow-Miami route. Transaero will offer three classes (business, premium economy and coach) on the Boeing 747-700s to New York and four classes (first, business, premium economy and coach) on the Boeing 777 flights to Miami. American Airlines says it will launch three weekly flights between its Dallas/Fort Worth hub and Barbados on December 16.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines customers take note: WiFi and alcoholic beverages are now free in Red Carpet Clubs. That matches the policy of Continental Airlines Presidents Clubs. Which makes sense since the two carriers are now officially owned by the same company and Red Carpet and Presidents Club members have reciprocal lounge privileges. The U.S. dollar is tanking against two major Pacific Rim currencies--again. The greenback is down to 82 Japanese yen, a 15-year low. And the Australian dollar has reached an all-time high (99 cents) against the U.S. dollar. InterContinental Hotels now offer credit in the AirTran A+ Rewards program. A+ Rewards members can receive a 1/2 credit for each stay and Intercontinental Priority Club Rewards members can cash 10,000 points for two A+ Rewards credits. Cathay Pacific and Alaska Airlines are now code-share partners.
Meanwhile, Back at the Pittsburgh Hilton/Wyndham/Grand Downtown
The iconic hotel at Gateway Center in downtown Pittsburgh that was a Hilton property for 50 years continues to be the lodging industry's best soap opera. Now operating in bankruptcy, the 712-room hotel claims it has a new owner, a Florida cardiologist. The mortgage holder, temporarily shut out by the bankruptcy filing, is still trying to foreclose. Shorn of the Hilton brand, the hotel's owners (whoever they are ) have finally stopped using the Hilton name. Despite a previous claim, however, they haven't aligned with Wyndham yet, either. Years of renovation remain incomplete, contractors have gone unpaid and a respected third-party management company came and went so fast this summer that there's a lawsuit about that, too. For the moment, the hotel is calling itself the Grand Pittsburgh Downtown and has launched a barebones Web site. (It's here.) Oh, the hotel's Twitter feed is now called the The GrandPITT.
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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.