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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 16-29, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Obama Budget Pitches New Fees, Security Cuts
· Alaska Airlines Adds Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale
· JetBlue Will Fly Boston-Nantucket This Summer
· A Tisket, a Tasket, Lots More in the Hotel Basket
· Air Canada and Pilots Avoid a Strike ... For Now
· Qantas Dumps Los Angeles-to-Auckland Flights
· The Underwear Bomber Gets a Life Sentence


The Obama Budget Pitches New Fees, Security Budget Cuts
The Obama Administration's proposed federal budget has some added fees for air travelers, small cuts for the TSA and airport subsidies and a suddenly controversial reduction in the program that trains pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit. First the fees. If the budget is passed--don't bet on anything like that in an election year--the security fee we currently pay on a one-way itinerary will double to $5. It would then rise 50 cents a year starting in 2014 until it reaches $7.50 in 2018. There'll also be a new $100 per departure fee imposed on airlines, business jets and other commercial aircraft. On the flip side, the budget proposal cuts the TSA's funding by 2.5 percent to $7.6 billion in the fiscal year starting October 1. Airports would receive about $2.4 billion in federal funding, down about $900 million from current levels. The federal air marshal program will take a 4 percent ($36 million) budget hit. One of the smallest cuts--a reduction to $12 million from $25 million for FFDO, the pilot-firearm program--is raising the hackles of the right-wing blogosphere. At sites like RedState.com and Hotair.com, bloggers are incensed that the President, who they routinely decry as a spendthrift and a deficit-loving stumblebum, would dare slash spending on a gun program. Apparently, the bloggers are convinced FFDO has been a smashing security success. But you'd be hard-pressed to prove the claim. Since the program launched in 2008, only about 11 percent of pilots have chosen to train to carry a handgun into the cockpit. And the only time a firearm was discharged in a cockpit, it was by accident, when a US Airways pilot mishandled a weapon on a flight from Denver to Charlotte.

Alaska Airlines Heads for Philadelphia, JetBlue Goes to Nantucket
Alaska Airlines say it'll launch daily flights from its Seattle-Tacoma hub to both Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. The daily flights launch July 16 using Boeing 737-800s. To accommodate the Fort Lauderdale run, however, Alaska is dropping its Seattle-Miami route, which it launched in 2002. ... JetBlue Airways, now the big player at Boston-Logan, is adding summer service to Nantucket. Flights to the popular summer vacation island will operate from May 17 to September 4 and use 100-seat EMB-190 jets. ... US Airways, or, more accurately, the airline's commuter division, is adding two routes from Washington/National. There'll be three daily flights to Cincinnati and two daily runs to Des Moines. Both routes will use CRJ 200 regional jets. ... Alamo and National, both divisions of Enterprise, have opened a joint car-rental station at Owen Roberts International on Grand Cayman Island. ... Priority Pass, the airport-lounge network, now has clubs in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the International Terminal at Bangkok/Suvarnabhumi.

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Lot More in Your Hotel Basket
Okay, so I'm no Ella Fitzgerald, but I'm running out of ways to tell you that the major lodging chains continue to open up basketsful of new properties around the world. From Hyatt, we have a 234-room Hyatt Place in downtown San Jose, California, and a 132-room Hyatt Place in Raleigh, near the RBC Center. ... Wyndham has put its flag on the 241-room Westward Look resort in Tucson. ... Hilton Garden Inn is the new name on the former 198-room Wyndham hotel in Pittsburgh on Forbes Avenue near the Oakland area. ... Starwood has added two resorts in Australia's Blue Mountains--Lilianfels and Echoes--to its Luxury Collection. It has also opened a 377-room St. Regis in Abu Dhabi; a 142-room Aloft at Bogota Airport in Colombia; and a 150-room Aloft in San Jose, Costa Rica. ... InterContinental has opened an 81-room Hotel Indigo in Berlin and converted an independent property in downtown Atlanta into a 130-room Holiday Inn Express. ... Finally, DoubleTree by Hilton will apparently slap its name on just about anything these days. This week's conversions include a 213-room hotel in Panama City, Panama; a 219-room property in Portland, Maine (the former Wyndham near the Maine Mall); and a 127-room hotel across the street from King of Prussia Mall in suburban Philadelphia.

Air Canada and Its Pilots Avoid a Strike ... For Now
Air Canada and its pilots, who've been working without a contract for almost a year, have averted a work stoppage for now. Both sides have agreed to a six-month mediation process overseen by the Canadian government. That should avert either a strike or a lockout through the summer. ... Speaking of strikes, a work stoppage by some employees at Frankfurt Airport is causing some cancellations and plenty of delays for Frankfurt-based Lufthansa this week. The strike by runway employees may last through the weekend. ... Qantas is dropping its Los Angeles-Auckland, New Zealand, route. The last flights will be in April. ... Japan Airlines and JetBlue Airways are the latest schedule buddies. They are doing joint marketing at JetBlue's New York/Kennedy hub, in Los Angeles and in Boston, where JAL is scheduled to launch nonstops to Tokyo in late April. ... American Airlines will code-share on Seattle-Beijing flights operated by China's Hainan Airlines. American also says that it will launch Miami-Barcelona service beginning April 3. The route will operate five times a week and go daily in June with Boeing 767-300s configured with business and coach cabins. ... Brussels Airlines, which is a mashup of the successor to Sabena and the old Virgin Express, will launch New York/Kennedy-Brussels flights in June. Airbus A330s configured with business and coach classes will be used on the route.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday (February 16) for attempting to blow up a flight on Christmas Day, 2009. The 25-year-old Nigerian unsuccessfully tried to take down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. His actions led the TSA to accelerate the deployment of full-body scanners at airports around the nation. ... Rising jet-fuel prices have led the airlines to push through a $10 roundtrip fare increase this week. It's the second successful fare bump of the year. This increase was led by Southwest Airlines. ... Another bit of fuel-related news: An analysis of airline schedules indicates that U.S. carriers operated fewer flights in 2011 than in any year since 2002. There were just 6.08 million departures last year. ... Deutsche Welle of Germany is finally streaming its 24-hour English-language news service on the Web without blocking U.S.-based viewers. The live stream is here.

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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.