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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 14 TO 28, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli
· Another Fare Increase Fails As Capacity Rises Fast
· Déjà Vu All Over Again for Sleeping Air Controllers · Update Your Hotel Scorecard With These Newbies
· US Airways Adds a 'First Class' to Its Regional Jets
· The Battle Lines Shift in the Online Travel World
· United Reinstates $75 Fee for Last-Minute Awards
· A Frankfurt Airport Lounge Gets a New Name
So Much for That Capacity Discipline…
The tenth attempt by legacy carriers to raise fares this year failed this week. That is four successive fare bumps that have failed to gain any traction. The reason airlines want to raise prices? The price of oil, which is back over $108 a barrel. But it's clear that discretionary travelers, who are looking at $4-a-gallon gas, aren't interested in paying more for flights. And business travelers, who've been hit with much higher real prices as the airlines tighten up on the availability of lower-priced seats in the 1-, 3- and 7-day advance-purchase fare buckets, are worried about how higher oil prices will retard the economic recovery. One other thing: Remember that vaunted "capacity discipline" the airlines had found in recent years and their promise that they'd never let supply outstrip demand again? Yeah, well, that was then and this is now. At American Airlines in March, for example, capacity grew three times faster than demand. Delta traffic in March increased just .5 percent compared to a 6.2 percent increase in capacity. United and Continental's combined traffic actually dropped 2.2 percent in March while their capacity increased by 2.1 percent. More seats and fewer customers mean no price hikes. At least for now.
Déjà Vu All Over Again for Sleeping-in-the-Tower Syndrome
The mainstream media is making a big deal over the fact that there have been at least four incidents in recent weeks when solo air traffic controllers were sleeping in the tower on a late-night shift. The outrage has grown so vocal that it has claimed a high-profile political victim. Hank Krakowski, director of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization and top man in the air traffic pecking order, handed in his resignation today (April 14). And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt have ordered a two-on-duty policy at all 27 towers that had been manned by a single controller during overnight hours. What's odd about all this blather, though, is that we've been through it all before. As far back as November, 2005, the FAA had ordered two controllers in every tower at all times. And that policy was restated after the crash of Comair Flight 191. There was only one controller working in the tower at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, when the plane crashed on takeoff in the early hours of August 27, 2006.
Update Your Hotel Scorecard With This Slew of Newbies
It's been another wacky few days in the hotel business. Lots of new hotels have opened and others have switched flags. So let's just get through them. Mark your frequent guest scorecards appropriately. … Hilton has opened a DoubleTree hotel in Ras Al Kahimah, one of the United Arab Emirates. The property has 98 rooms and 28 apartments. … Starwood has opened a St. Regis hotel in Bangkok. The property has 227 rooms and 53 residences and is located on Rajadamri Road. Meanwhile, it is pulling the W name off the hotel at 111 Perimeter Center West in Atlanta. The former Sheraton became Starwood's second W when it opened in 1999. The new name for the hotel will be the generic Atlanta Perimeter Hotel. … InterContinental has opened two Holiday Inn properties in Houston (a 130-room hotel on Westpark Drive and a 111-room hotel in Channelview) and a 160-room Holiday Inn in the Escazu neighborhood of San Jose, Costa Rica. It also converted a 513-room former Days Inn in Toronto into a Holiday Inn after a $20 million renovation. And a former Embassy Suites 1.5 miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has been converted to a Holiday Inn.
A Small-Plane Concession From the Airline Last With The Least
We expect US Airways to be last with the least in terms of products and in-flight comfort, so it will not surprise you to learn that the carrier is just now getting around to adding first-class cabins to its regional jets. Although first class on regional jets operated by US Airways' competitors ain't much, it's better than a kick in the head. So several years behind its Star Alliance partner United Airlines and months behind American and Delta, US Airways and US Airways Express will begin offering more space up front on its 110 small aircraft. The cabin will feature 37 or 38 inches of legroom at each seat and the chairs will be configured 1x2. The EMB-175 will begin getting first class in October and the airline claims the CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 fleets and its EMB-170s will be converted by the end of January. The move will affect about 650 of US Airways' flights to 85 cities.
The Battle Lines Shift in the Online Travel World
American Airlines has buried the metaphoric hatchet with Expedia.com and American's fares are back on the online site. But things have gotten even nastier between American, Orbitz.com and its parent company, Travelport. American sued Travelport this week. Travelport responded by laughing at American's claims of bullying and anticompetitive behavior. Either way, you still won't find American fares on Orbitz. … The government has cleared Google's purchase of ITA, which created the software that forms the technological basis of many airline Web sites, Orbitz.com and other online travel agencies. … Meanwhile, Expedia says it's going to spin off the part of the company that runs travel sites such as TripAdvisor and Seatguru. And, yeah, all of these stories are related, but the fabric is really dense and unbelievably complicated. We'll talk more about them in weeks to come.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has reinstated a $75 charge for claiming Mileage Plus awards within 21 days of departure. Elite members are exempt from the fee, however. … The former Admirals Club in Departure Hall B/C of Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport has been renamed the LuxxLounge. It'll serve as the premium-class passenger lounge for El Al and also accepts Priority Pass members. … The Associated Press moved a story this week that claims the government has prevented more than 350 suspected terrorists from boarding U.S.-bound flights since the "underwear bomber" incident on Christmas Day, 2009. … A study that was published late last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine claims that full-body airport scanners are an "extremely low" source of radiation exposure and pose virtually no health risk.
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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.