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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 9-23, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Airport Security May Finally Begin Making Sense
· New York's Algonquin Hotel Closes the Oak Room
· Back to the Future--and Coach--at OpenSkies
· United Will Fly From Washington to Doha, Qatar
· American Air Boss Disses the Boys From Phoenix
· TSA Agent Caught on Video Stealing $5,000
· Marriott Opens Two Hotels in Calgary, Alberta


Airport Security May Finally Begin Making Sense. Maybe.
After a decade of little progress--and many backward steps--airport security and customs procedures may finally be getting a substantial upgrade. Three separate developments this week can only be good news for business flyers. After an order from the White House, the Customs and Border Protection service said that it was making Global Entry a permanent part of customs and immigration clearance. Global Entry is the network of automated kiosks that allows members to bypass traditional immigration lines at more than a dozen U.S. airports. The program has technically been in "pilot" status since its launch in 2008. Making Global Entry permanent means that it can expand to additional U.S. gateway airports and coordinate with programs operated by other countries. (At the moment, Global Entry members only have privileges with Privium of The Netherlands and Nexus of Canada.) Meanwhile, the TSA says that it will expand its PreCheck plan to several dozen other airports during 2012. The PreCheck "trusted traveler" plan allows elite flyers to bypass some checkpoint formalities and currently operates at just seven airports. Of course, TSA announces a lot of things without implementing them, so wait for details and timetables before you cheer. Finally, Congress passed the first FAA budget authorization in years and it includes one key clause: The TSA must allow airports to opt out of government-run security checkpoints unless the agency can prove private operations are not safe. Although an opt-out clause was baked into the 2001 law that created the TSA, last year TSA Administrator John Pistole unilaterally shut down new applications. Sixteen airports currently use private screeners instead of TSA employees.

This Ain't Hip: New York's Algonquin Hotel Closes the Oak Room
When the famed--if famously shabby--Algonquin Hotel in New York joined Marriott's Autograph Collection in 2010, music fans justifiably hoped that Marriott's reach (not to mention the Marriott Reward points) would bring more travelers to the Oak Room, one of New York's best cabarets. For the last generation, dozens of the best jazz musicians and vocalists would hit the Oak Room for a few nights a year. The Oak Room was also home to a Sunday Brunch with the virtuoso jazz pianist Barbara Carroll. But all that comes to an end in May, when the Algonquin finishes up a renovation. The Oak Room, which closed last month, will be replaced with an executive lounge. Free breakfast we can get anywhere, but where do we go now to hear Dave Frishberg, Diana Krall or Stacey Kent? ... Speaking of Marriott, it has opened two new properties in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The 171-room Courtyard and the 171-room Residence Inn share a building in the 2500 block of 48th Avenue NE, about 12 kilometers from Calgary International Airport.

Back to the Future--and Coach--at OpenSkies to Paris
Many of you received an e-mail this week touting the "eco" coach class at OpenSkies, the British Airways subsidiary that had been offering only two classes of business class between Newark and Paris/Orly Airport. It doesn't mean the end of the superlative BizSeat class (2x2 seating with 50+ inches of legroom), but it sure is a sign that OpenSkies' future as a game-changing service is over. Effective June 19, OpenSkies' Boeing 757s will have 12 seats in the so-called BizBed class and will continue to use the first-generation BA flat-bed seat. The BizSeat class will be shrunk to 28 seats and be renamed Prem Plus, a take on the cabin's original name of prem+. The coach cabin will have 66 seats configured 3x3 in 11 rows. If it makes you feel any better (and it won't), OpenSkies started with a three-class configuration when it launched in 2008, but the founders quickly jettisoned coach in an attempt to position the airline as a stylish, value-oriented all-business-class carrier. ... United Airlines says that it'll add Doha, Qatar, to its route map. Effective May 1, United's existing Washington/Dulles-Dubai route will continue to Doha. The return service will operate Doha-Dubai-Dulles. A four-class Boeing 777 is used on the route. ... JetBlue Airways launches twice-daily service between Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, Jamaica, on April 30.

Come to Think of It, What Is in the Water in Phoenix?
Running an airline makes you part of a exclusive fraternity and the first rule of Airline CEO Club is don't talk about Airline CEO Club--or any of the members in it. Airline executives simply don't diss each other in public. Which is what makes American Airlines chief executive Tom Horton's comments about the bosses of US Airways so fascinating. When asked by editors of the hometown Dallas Morning News about what everyone expects to be a run at bankrupt American by US Airways chief executive Doug Parker, Horton let fly. "Let's go back and look at history a little bit. This is a small company very strategically limited," Horton said. "This will be their fourth try: twice for United, once for Delta. I would argue that this will be every bit as successful as their prior tries. I'm not sure what's in the water out there [at US Airways headquarters] in Phoenix. Maybe it's the cactus. I don't know what it is."

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
As I've been saying for the better part of five years, in-flight WiFi may be convenient for us, but it is a financially losing proposition at the current price, which can be as high as $13 per domestic flight. Even now, just 16 percent of the North American commercial fleet is equipped for WiFi, says research firm InStat. Worse, the uptake rate (the number of travelers using WiFi where it is available) is only 7 percent. "The service isn't profitable at these levels," InStat concludes. "Everyone is hoping it improves." Ya think? ... Put this in your never-mind file: Kingfisher Airlines won't become a member of the Oneworld Alliance after all. Just as Air India failed in a multi-year quest to become a member of the Star Alliance, shaky finances at Kingfisher, an independent Indian airline owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, have doomed its bid. ... A TSA agent at New York/Kennedy has been arrested on suspicion of stealing $5,000 in cash from a passenger's jacket as it passed on the conveyor belt. The agent was seen on a security tape taking the bills out of the jacket, wrapping them in a glove and heading to a restroom. The cash hasn't been found.

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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.