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THE END-OF-THE-YEAR BRIEFING
By Joe Brancatelli

· Airlines and Online Travel Agencies Go to War
· Hilo, Hawaii, Gets a Mainland Flight Link Again
· Legacy Carriers Raise Roundtrip Fares by $20
· Harlem Gets Its First Major Hotel in a Century
· Alfred Kahn, Father of Deregulation, Dies at 93
· The WiFi Is Free at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
· Moscow Airports Hit By Ice Storm and Blackout


The Airlines and Online Travel Agents Go to War
If you haven't shopped for an airline ticket since before Christmas, you may be surprised by how quickly the landscape has changed. American Airlines has pulled its fares and seats from Orbitz.com and had its fares exiled into the online equivalent of Siberia by Expedia.com. And Delta has removed its ticket inventory from several smaller agencies, including CheapOAir.com, OneTravel.com and Bookit.com. The American-Orbitz spat centers on American's demand that Orbitz access seat inventory and prices in a way that would minimize American's cost. When Orbitz refused, preferring an access method more financially advantageous to its parent company, a court ruled that American could remove its fares from Orbitz. Expedia then shot a preemptive shot across American's bow. When you search for fares on Expedia, American's prices now aren't immediately displayed with those of other carriers. You have to click through several additional screens to find American's prices. Delta's moves to cut off the smaller online sites is a business decision, according to the carrier. What's all this mean? Probably that 2011 will see more battles between online agencies and airlines as the carriers try to get control of their product and force business travelers to book directly through their proprietary sites. And, yes, of course that means the airlines are trying to eliminate competition and drive up fares. That goes without saying.

Hilo, Hawaii, Gets a Mainland Link Again
Hilo, the closest airport to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the largest city on the Big Island of Hawaii, will once again have flights to the mainland. Effective June 9, Continental Airlines will run a daily nonstop Boeing 737-800 flight from Los Angeles. It'll also fly Saturday-only service from San Francisco. Except for some flights a few years ago from now-defunct ATA Airlines, Hilo has been without a mainland link for almost 25 years. WiFi connections are now free throughout Amsterdam Schiphol airport. From the It-Could-Always-Be-Worse-on-the-Road File: An ice storm and freezing rain crippled the two major airports serving Moscow this week. A 14-hour blackout also plunged the city's largest airport, Domodedovo, into darkness. As many as 20,000 flyers were stuck at Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo for upwards of four days. As food and beverage supplies ran short, airport concessionaires jacked up their prices and gouged the trapped travelers. Speaking of winter weather, British newspapers have been all over the British Airport Authority (BAA) for its dismal performance after the brief pre-Christmas snowfall at London/Heathrow Airport. One of the important disclosures: BAA officials are not prepared to clean more than an inch of snow from the world's busiest international hub. It has also woefully underfunded Heathrow's bad-weather contingency plans.

A Rush of New Hotels at the End of the Year
How many new hotels have opened this month? So many that I've only got room to tell you about the domestic newbies. I'll run down the new overseas offerings next week. The first chain hotel in Harlem in perhaps a century opened this week on the corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard (Eighth Avenue) and West 124th Street in Manhattan. The 124-room Aloft Harlem is also Starwood's first Aloft in New York City. At the other end of Manhattan Island (in Soho) a 119-room Courtyard by Marriott has opened. A 93-room Hyatt Place has opened in downtown Des Moines. Hyatt has also opened the 178-room Hyatt Escala Lodge at the base of the Sunrise Chairlift in the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. Wyndham has put its name on the 104-room Peabody Court hotel in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. Doubletree has put its name on the 194-room Hotel Mays in Long Beach, California. A 142-room Cambria Suites has opened on Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh, adjacent to the CONSOL Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. A 91-room Holiday Inn Express has opened in Hays, Kansas. Marriott has converted a 100-room Wingate hotel near the airport in Charleston, South Carolina, into a Fairfield Inn.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Led by United and Continental airlines, legacy carriers pushed through an across-the-board $10 one-way fare increase this week. Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways didn't match the price hike. So much for that idea: Barry Sternlicht has sold Paris' Hotel de Crillion to a member of the Saudi royal family. A real-estate investor who founded Starwood Hotels, Sternlicht once wanted to build a luxury chain around the famed property. The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a $275,000 fine on Continental Airlines for operating a pair of Boeing 737-900s that were not up to safety regulations. The FAA also fined American Eagle $330,000 for safety violations. Estonia switches to the euro on New Year's Day. It'll be the 17th European nation to officially adopt the currency.

Alfred Kahn, Father of Airline Deregulation, Has Died
Ninety-three-year-old Alfred Kahn died on Monday, December 27. It's not hyperbole to say he was the father of U.S. airline regulation. An economist by trade, Kahn was the head of the old Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), the agency that once regulated airlines. An appointee of President Carter, he was a tireless champion of the deregulatory process. His legislative ally was Stephen Breyer, then chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary committee and now a justice of the Supreme Court. Breyer and Senator Edward Kennedy shepherded the Airline Deregulation Act that led to the dissolution of the CAB. Even in recent years, Kahn was a tireless defender of the concept of deregulation and a critic of its execution. He said that he never envisioned the regulated-era legacy carriers would have survived this long and expressed surprise that they were able to use their entrenched positions to dominate the current aviation environment.

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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.