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THE BRIEFING FOR NOVEMBER 4-18, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli

· GOP Wave Wipes Out House Aviation Biggie
· Delta Is Giving Away SkyMiles Silver Elite Status
· KLM Will Resume Miami-Amsterdam Flights
· BA's Credit Card Dumps 3 Percent Forex Fee
· Qantas Grounds A380s After an Engine Failure
· Southwest Hits Bottom in On-Time Ratings
· How Much Has TSA Loosened the 3-1-1 Rule?


Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.
The Republican wave that swept dozens of Democrats out of Congress on Election Day claimed one familiar name in aviation circles: James Oberstar. The 18-term incumbent from Minnesota lost to Chip Cravaack, a retired airline pilot. Oberstar has been chairman of the House Transportation Committee since 2007 and was the ranking member when Republicans controlled the House between 1995 and 2006. However, Oberstar was best known in recent years as a vociferous opponent of airline mergers. But the rhetoric was shameless political posturing since Congress had no power over mergers. Cravaack's victory came because he used the 2010 Republican playbook, claiming Oberstar was a big spender, union stooge and rubber stamp for the "Pelosi-Obama" agenda of big government. Yet Cravaack got his college degree and his pilot training at taxpayer expense thanks to his military service. He worked from 1990 to 2007 at Northwest Airlines, which, like all carriers, received two taxpayer-funded bailouts after 9/11. Minnesota-based Northwest, which merged with Delta Air Lines last year, also piled up subsidies and special tax breaks thanks in part to deals negotiated by Oberstar. During his Northwest career, Cravaack was an official of ALPA, the big union of airline pilots. And as he pummeled Oberstar for legislation that interfered with private industry, Cravaack's Web site complained that Northwest management indulged in practices that "resulted in my pay being cut in half and my pension frozen."

Silver Elite. What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing…
Wondering if first-level (silver) elite status at the legacy carriers is actually worth anything these days? You now have an answer from Delta Air Lines. The nation's largest carrier will give you Silver Medallion status in SkyMiles when you transfer 50,000 points or more to your SkyMiles account from American Express Membership Rewards. Not only that, you'll get a 50 percent bonus on your transfers. In other words, transfer 50,000 Amex points and you'll receive 75,000 SkyMiles and 25,000 MQMs, which equals Silver status. You must register and do the transfer by December 15. Details are here. And, in fairness, Silver Elite status at Delta will get you a waiver of checked-bag fees and other minor perks. … The British Airways Visa Signature Card says that it has dropped the 3 percent foreign-exchange fee for international purchases. That's not small potatoes, but it's not unexpected, either. Chase, which issues the BA card, recently created credit cards for Hyatt Gold Passport and InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards that have no forex fees. … Avis Budget, the dual-headed car-rental firm, joins the JetBlue TrueBlue program on November 10.

Like a Rubber Ball, They Keep Flying Back to You
It's taken almost six years, but KLM says it will resume nonstops between Miami and its Amsterdam hub on March 27. Three-class MD-11s will be configured with business, premium economy and coach and operate four times weekly. … Aeromexico is resuming two of its seasonal routes. On November 20, it will relaunch flights between Los Angeles/Ontario and Guadalajara. Flights between Denver and Mexico City resume on December 15. Both routes are daily. … The world's busiest airports? Three of the five are overseas. Although Atlanta is by far top of the charts (8.4 million passengers in July), Beijing Capital airport (6.8 million) is now ahead of London/Heathrow (6.7 million). Chicago/O'Hare is fourth with 6.4 million passengers followed by Paris/CDG at 5.8 million.

There's a Small Hotel…And a Lot of Big, New Ones, Too…
We're delivering an odd crop of new hotels this week. And they are scattered around the world. … In Shanghai, for example, Marriott has opened another Renaissance property, this one a 330-room hotel in the Hongqiao district. … In Pune, India, there's a new, 222-room Hyatt Regency in the Weikfield IT Park. … On the North Shore of Thailand's Samui Island, the new W Retreat features 75 private villas. … In Bothell, a suburb of Seattle, there's a new, 128-room Hilton Garden Inn. … This week's reflaggings? Doubletree has taken over the 171-room former Marriott in Norwalk, California. And Al Maha, the super-deluxe compound in a desert conservation zone just outside of Dubai, has joined Starwood's Luxury Collection. The property has 42 suites with tented roofs and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the dunes. It was built by the company that owns Emirates Airlines, but it will now be managed by Starwood.

Something Happening Here. What It Is Ain't Exactly Liquid.
Is the Transportation Security Administration loosening (or even ignoring) its much-derided 3-1-1 rule? A posting on the Road Warriorette blog documents several major changes in recent months. For example, stick deodorant is no longer required to be in your zip-top bag because it's apparently no longer considered a liquid. Cosmetics and medicinal products in tubes are also no longer classified as liquids and can be packed outside your 3-1-1 bag. And I'm getting anecdotal reports from travelers that TSA checkpoint agents no longer routinely require you to remove your zip-top bag from your carry-on. I've experienced that phenomenon myself. In Seattle recently, I inadvertently left my toiletries in my carry-on and the screeners simply ignored it. For the record, of course, the TSA continues to insist that your toiletries case must be separately screened, but it's clear that the rule is now open to interpretation.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Qantas grounded its six Airbus A380s on Thursday (November 4) after what it called a "significant engine failure" on a London-Singapore-Sydney run. The A380 returned to Singapore shortly after departing for Sydney. News reports say one of the Rolls Royce-built engines shed parts and huge sheets of metal over the nearby island of Batam before the emergency landing back in Singapore. The 11 A380s in the Singapore Airlines fleet were briefly grounded, but cleared to fly after inspections. Two other A380 operators, Air France and Emirates, do not use Rolls Royce engines on the aircraft. Lufthansa has three A380s with Rolls Royce engines. … FlightStats says North American carriers registered an 81.4 percent on-time rating in October. At the bottom of the pile was Southwest Airlines, which operated just 65.4 percent of its flights on-time. Delta Air Lines, which has been at the bottom in recent months, was slightly above the industry average at 82.4 percent. … Speaking of Southwest, the first details of its new service from Newark Airport include six daily flights to Chicago/Midway and two to St. Louis. Flights begin March 27. Flights from Newark, one of the nation's worst airports for on-time operations, should really help Southwest's on-time ratings, don't you think?

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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.