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THE BRIEFING FOR JAN. 26 TO FEB. 9, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· The Next Southwest: More Seats and Fewer Cities
· Mileage Plus, OnePass Elite Benefits Last Longer
· A St. Regis Where a Famous Sheraton Once Stood
· Virgin America Will Fly San Francisco-Philadelphia
· Alaska Airlines Ramps Up Service From San Diego
· TSA Adds PreCheck for (Some) LAX, MSP Flyers
· DoubleTree Takes Over a Hated Hilton in Maryland


The Next Southwest: More Seats Per Flights, Fewer Cities Served
If anything has defined Southwest Airlines during its 39 consecutive years of profit, it's the airline's almost blinkered approach to what it does and how it does it. Operationally, Southwest today remains surprisingly close to the product originally conceived by the founders in the late 1960s. But the merger with AirTran Airways and the continuing high price of jet fuel is forcing changes even as Southwest last week reported another annual profit. Southwest says that it will add a row of seats to its aircraft and trim six cities from AirTran's current route map. The new seating scheme entails putting slimmer, lighter seats on most of the airline's fleet of Boeing 737s. And although there will be six extra seats per flight--143 compared to the current 137 on most aircraft--Southwest says the new seat style and materials will allow it to keep the current 32 inches of legroom. Installations begin in March and will continue for about a year. The extra seats will also offset an approximate 3 percent decline in departures in 2012. Some of the capacity decline will come from AirTran, which will dump six cities on August 12. Gone will be Allentown and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Lexington, Kentucky; Huntsville, Alabama; White Plains, New York; and Sarasota, Florida. Southwest says service to those cities will continue as normal until August 11.

Mileage Plus and OnePass Elite Benefits Will Last an Extra Month
United Airlines says that its combined MileagePlus program will essentially begin on March 3, the same day the merged airline is planning its big-bang data conversion to Continental's computer systems. If you're currently an elite United Mileage Plus or Continental OnePass member, your existing status will continue through March 2. Normally, elite status ends at the end of January. ... One thing that won't survive the OnePass-Mileage Plus merger is Continental's frequent flyer partnership with Virgin Atlantic. February 13 is the last day to accrue miles on Virgin or claim miles for Virgin seats. ... Priority Club Rewards is switching the points accrual policy for InterContinental hotels in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Beginning February 15, members will receive 10 points per dollar spent rather than a flat 2,000 points per stay. ... Emirates, the carrier based in Dubai, begins nonstop flights to Seattle-Tacoma on March 1, so it is joining the frequent flyer program of Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Alaska Mileage Plan members will be able to earn miles on flights to any of Emirates' 118 destinations worldwide.

Meet the New Bal Harbour Hotel. Different Than the Old Bal Harbour.
The St. Regis luxury division of Starwood has opened a 245-room property in Bal Harbour, the ritzy enclave at the northern tip of Miami Beach. The new resort on Collins Avenue is built on the site of the old Sheraton Bal Harbour, the iconic 1950s landmark designed by Morris Lapidus. ... Elsewhere in Florida, Hilton has opened a dual-branded complex in downtown Jacksonville. The 221-unit property in the San Marco neighborhood houses both a Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites by Hilton. Meanwhile, the much-despised Hilton Hotel in Silver Spring, Maryland, has been rebranded as a DoubleTree by Hilton. The 248-room hotel has been undergoing a renovation. .... New from Marriott this week: a 107-room Residence Inn in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a 100-room SpringHill Suites in Richardson, Texas, about halfway between downtown Dallas and DFW Airport.

Virgin America Heads to Philadelphia, Alaska Bulks Up in San Diego
Virgin America keeps losing money, but it keeps adding routes. This time, it's another transcontinental run. Effective April 4, Virgin America will launch two daily nonstops to Philadelphia from its San Francisco hub. ... Alaska Airlines is plotting an expansion in San Diego using its commuter division's Q400 aircraft. Beginning June 4, Alaska launches twice-daily flights to Fresno and daily flights to both Monterey and Santa Rosa, California. Elsewhere around the West, the airline says it'll add twice-daily service between Reno and San Jose beginning June 5. There will also be seasonal flights between Portland and four cities: Santa Barbara; Bellingham, Washington; and Bozeman and Missoula, Montana. The Portland flights will run between June 5 and August 25. On the downside of the ledger, however, Alaska will drop its Santa Rosa-Las Vegas flights on June 3.

TSA Announces a Small Expansion of the PreCheck Program
The Transportation Security Administration has been moving with the speed of molasses to expand its PreCheck registered traveler program. The agency says PreCheck is now available to certain elite American Airlines flyers at Los Angeles International. And effective Tuesday (January 24), PreCheck is also available to some elite Delta Air Lines flyers at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Next month, the TSA says, Delta elites at Salt Lake City will get access to special security lanes. For complete details, surf here. ... Under pressure from critics who claim the newest full-body scanners expose travelers to too much radiation, the TSA says that it will conduct new tests. But the testing will be on TSA agents who staff the checkpoints. The TSA won't be checking the amount of radiation travelers receive when they pass through the scanners.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Airlines tried back-to-back fare increases as the year began. The first, for $20 roundtrip, went through. A second, $4-$10 roundtrip, failed. ... Effective February 1, American Airlines will resume serving complimentary wine and beer in coach on most of its international flights. The move will bring American in line with the policies of its Oneworld Alliance partners. ... Alaska Airlines says that it will stop placing "prayer cards" on first-class meal trays effective on February 1. The cards, which offered quotes from Old Testament psalms, annoyed some flyers who believe in a separation of chuck and airline. ... It looks like the fractious Congress has at least agreed on a new funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration. That minimizes the chance of another FAA shutdown on January 31.

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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 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.