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THE BRIEFING FOR AUG. 26 - SEPT. 8, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· United p.s. Service: Less P(remium), More S(eats)
· American Makes Changes (All Bad) to AAdvantage
· Southwest Will Bring Its Own Planes to Atlanta
· TSA's Trusted Traveler Won't Trust You Much
· Lufthansa Starts a Credit Card Fee in Europe
· Frontier Will Try Two New Cities From Denver
· Heathrow's Secret Windsor Suite Is Now Open


United p.s. Service: Less P(remium) and More S(eats)
Seven years after it first reconfigured the Boeing 757s it used on the New York/Kennedy-Los Angeles and Kennedy-San Francisco routes, United Airlines is largely throwing in the towel on its p.s. service. (PS supposedly means premium service.) The dedicated transcontinental fleet is losing its first-class cabin and will once again have a traditional coach section. At the moment, the narrowbody aircraft are configured with 12 seat-beds in first, 26 seats in business class and 72 Economy Plus seats. After United reworks the aircraft, there will be 26 seats in business, 70 Economy Plus seats and 40 coach chairs. But that's not all bad. The new lie-flat seats in business are better than the old first-class seats. And the new Economy Plus configuration will feature 35-37 inches of legroom. (Economy Plus on p.s. now has 34 inches of seat pitch.) United once consistently claimed that it was going to expand the p.s. service to other routes, but that was all marketing hype. The impetus for the change now is the drastic decline in demand for paid first-class passage on the so-called Golden Triangle routes. And that can be traced to a new contract between the film studios and SAG/AFTRA, the actor unions. The agreement, struck last November, no longer requires studios to fly actors in first class on routes that have a business-class cabin.

Southwest Will Bring Its Own Planes and Service to Atlanta
Southwest Airlines bought AirTran Airways largely because AirTran's Atlanta hub made Southwest an instant competitor with Delta Air Lines' mega-hub at Hartsfield. But Southwest isn't simply using AirTran as a stand-in for its own service. Effective February 12, it will launch its own flights (with standard one-class, open-seating service) on five routes from Atlanta. There will be two daily nonstops to Austin; four to Baltimore-Washington; two to Denver; three to Houston/Hobby and four to Chicago/Midway. AirTran already offers its two-class, assigned-seating service on four of those routes. The newbie is Atlanta-Austin, a route Delta now serves on a monopoly basis and for which it charges an immense premium. Southwest's introductory fare on Atlanta-Austin is just $99 one-way. Introductory fares on the other routes are either $79 or $99 one-way. Frontier Airlines, which is struggling for an identity and a defensible route map, is going to try two new destinations. Effective November 17, it'll launch six-day-a-week flights between its Denver hub and Little Rock and three-day-a-week flights between Denver and Palm Springs. Both routes will operate with Embraer 190 jets.

American Makes Changes--None of Them Good--to AAdvantage
American Airlines is now the smallest of the big legacy carriers, it's saddled with an aging fleet and it bleeds cash even when competitors occasionally ring up a profitable quarter. So you'd think the brain trust at American would rush to improve benefits in AAdvantage as a way to level the playing field. But, no, American's solution is to cut perks. For starters, American and Citibank have stopped issuing the AAdvantage debit card. If you don't have one, you can't get one. Moreover, there is every indication that Citi will stop offering AAdvantage miles for debit-card transactions by the end of the year. You also can't transfer AAdvantage miles to Hilton HHonors points anymore, either. (A backdoor way to transfer miles is still available here, but that method is expected to shut down, too.) Finally, American has decided that its Million Miler program never really existed, but was just an "informal" service. That's corporate speak for what they are really doing: codifying the plan, judging AAdvantage members on new, tougher standards of mileage accumulation and cutting the benefits of Million Miler status. The "official" Million Miler plan begins December 1 and your status will be judged based on new criteria listed here. One bit of good news: Whatever lifetime AAdvantage status you achieved as a member of the "informal" Million Miler program will not be repealed.

Surprise! The TSA's New Trusted Traveler Plan Won't Trust You Much
Many of you are receiving notices from American Airlines or Delta Air Lines explaining that your elite status and membership in an immigration bypass program--Global Entry or Nexus or Sentri--may qualify you for participation in the TSA's first test of a trusted traveler security bypass plan. Sounds great, right? Don't get too excited. It looks like the TSA will run its Expedited Screening Pilot in the same infuriatingly condescending and inconsistent way as it runs security checkpoints. Even if you're selected to participate, for example, you may not always be able to use the bypass plan every time. The TSA decides on a flight-by-flight basis and doesn't tell you until you reach the security checkpoint. Even if you are chosen for bypass on a particular flight, you're still potentially subject to secondary screening. Keep your laptop in your bag and your shoes on? The TSA won't say. And if you ask why the plan seems to have no definable standards, the response is predictable: We can't do anything predictably or give you standards because that will tip off the terrorists to what we're doing. You can read more of the TSA's gobbledygook about the program here. Meanwhile, TSA Administrator John Pistole takes a gobbledygook star turn in an interview with Business Travel News.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines has opened a temporary Admirals Club at St. Louis. The permanent Admirals Club has been closed since a tornado in April destroyed parts of Lambert's passenger terminals. Watch this one carefully, folks: On November 2, Lufthansa and its subsidiaries (Swiss, Brussels, Austrian and BMI) will charge flyers in six countries a 5-to-18 euro fee for the right to charge tickets to a credit card. It's called the "Optional Payment Charge." Makes you wonder if you have the option not to pay for the tickets, doesn't it? The fee does not affect travelers buying Lufthansa seats in the United States. United Airlines says it will install larger overhead bins on its Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. Work is due to begin next year. The carrier also says that the installation of Economy Plus seats on Continental Airlines aircraft is ahead of schedule. About three dozen Continental jets will have an Economy Plus section by the end of the year.

The Secret's Out at Heathrow. But You Can't Afford to Know About It. The super-secret, ultra-private lounge in Terminal 5 at London/Heathrow airport that was only available to royalty, government bigwigs and celebrities has gone public, albeit quietly and at an insanely high cost. The Windsor Suite is now bookable here for 1,500 pounds plus 20 percent tax per visit. As the VIP operation hastens to add, however, that fee does cover a traveling party of six people. And if you're not flying from Terminal 5, the fee also covers direct private-car transfers to your aircraft parked at other Heathrow terminals.

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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.