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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 24 TO 31, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Changes Coming Fast at United and Continental
· Delta Will Cut 25 Percent of Its Memphis Flights
· Slowly They Turn … Hotel By Hotel (With Video)
· Air Canada Will Drop Four Transborder Routes
· Alaska Airlines Bails on Two California Cities
· Major Carriers Try for Another Fare Increase
· Asleep At the Wheel At Washington/National


Changes Are Coming Fast at United and Continental
Changes at United and Continental airlines, now merged under the holding company prosaically named United Continental Holdings, are coming thick and fast now. It takes some sleuthing to figure out whether the changes are good or bad and a lot of the judgment will be based on how you personally use either or both carriers. Here's what's new.
    New frequent flyer program changes Effective June 15, United and Continental make more major adjustments to their respective award charts. The United Mileage Plus changes are here and the OnePass changes are here. Good news: Continental adds one-way awards and United will charge less for award flights below 700 miles. Bad news: Some award levels have been raised, albeit gently. Titanic news: Both programs are substantially raising the price of their upgrade schemes.
    More lie-flat beds Continental is racing along with the installation of lie-flat beds in business class. All of the Continental's 41 international Boeing 757s now have the seat beds. All of its Boeing 777s were finished late last year. But progress is insanely slow at United. Only 10 of its 46 B-777s are finished, which means just 55 of United's 91 international aircraft have lie-flat beds. And that's on a project originally due to be completed in 2009.
    In-flight WiFi United Continental Holdings has apparently committed to in-flight WiFi from LiveTV, the JetBlue Airways subsidiary that is installing at-seat DirecTV service on about 200 Continental aircraft. LiveTV's satellite-based version of Internet is still at least a year away from operation. It also leaves the 14 United aircraft on the New York/Kennedy-LAX and JFK-San Francisco runs in limbo. They are equipped with Aircell's ground-based Gogo system.
    No miles for debit cards Chase, which issues the carriers' credit- and debit cards, says OnePass miles will no longer be awarded for debit-card transactions. The change takes place on July 12. OnePass debit-card holders, who pay an annual fee for the card, will get pro-rated refunds.

Delta Will Cut 25 Percent of Its Memphis Flights
It won't come as a big shock, but Delta Air Lines is downsizing another mid-sized hub. It's been hacking away at its Cincinnati hub for a decade and now it's taking the ax to its schedule at Memphis, a hub it picked up in the Northwest Airlines merger. Although the airline isn't saying which routes are affected, about 25 percent of the current 211 daily flights will be chopped. Apparently, however, all of the routes being dropped are run with 37- and 50-seat regional jets. That will hold the actual seat capacity decline into and out of Memphis to about 10 percent. … Alaska Airlines says it will drop all flights from Eureka and Redding, California. Both cities get dumped on April 17. … American Eagle, the commuter subsidiary of American Airlines, is adding two routes from Chicago/O'Hare. Effective June 9, there will be two daily flights to Charlottesville, Virginia. Two daily flights to Wilmington, North Carolina, begin on July 2.

Air Canada Drops Four Transborder Routes, Blames High Oil Prices
Air Canada says that the rising price of oil and jet fuel is forcing it to dump six routes on May 1. Four are transborder runs: Ottawa-Washington/Dulles; Montreal-Dulles; Calgary-Chicago/O'Hare; and Calgary-San Francisco. The other two routes on the chopping block are Ottawa-Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Calgary-London, Ontario. … JetBlue Airways has another international partner. It and Virgin Atlantic will interline on Virgin's flights to Britain from JetBlue's New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan hubs as well as from Washington/Dulles and Orlando. … Qatar Airways will start three weekly flights from Montreal to Doha on June 29. The Canadian government and several Arab Gulf carriers--including Qatar, Emirates and Ethihad--have been squabbling on the number of flights Canada permits the airlines to operate. … Wataniya Airways, a low-fare carrier based in Kuwait, has folded.

Slowly They Turn … Hotel By Hotel
As hotel owners search for profit in a time of reduced nightly rates and room occupancy, they continue to change the name of the chain on their doors. So get your flag-change scorecard out and mark down these newbies. … Two notable flips in Australia: The former Sheraton in Perth has become the 386-room Pan Pacific Perth. Pan Pacific has also taken over the 276-room Hilton at Melbourne Airport and rebranded it as the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport. … In South Africa, the 137-room Coral International Cape Town becomes the Hilton Cape Town next month. … In Spartanburg, South Carolina, the former Radisson and Wilson World hotel on Fairforest Road has become a Clarion property. … In Niagara Falls, New York, the former Crowne Plaza on Third Street has become a Sheraton. There's also a Sheraton on the Canadian side of the falls. And since I know you've been waiting for this since the headline: "Slowly I turn…" Stooges fans, click here. Abbott and Costello fans, click here.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The air traffic controller involved in this week's incident at Reagan National Airport near Washington has been suspended. Apparently, he literally fell asleep at the switches early on Wednesday morning and two aircraft landed without guidance or assistance. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has now ordered the FAA to place at least two controllers on the midnight shift at National and review staffing at other airports. All sounds eerily familiar? That's because Comair Flight 191 crashed on takeoff in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2006 and it was partially blamed on a single person in the tower at Blue Grass Airport. … The major airlines are trying another fare increase this week after last week's attempt failed. The reason? Oil is back over $105 a barrel after it briefly dipped to around $98 after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. … United Airlines and American Airlines have agreed to a scaled-down plan to expand Chicago/O'Hare Airport after the federal government kicked in another $155 million toward the cost of the project. The two carriers sued to stop the expansion last month.

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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 © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.