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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 22 TO 31, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· United Blames You for Its Clogged Phones
· Delta Re-Times Its East Coast Shuttle Flights
· Alaska Airlines Shifts to Terminal 6 at LAX
· Thai Airways Dumps LAX-Bangkok Nonstops
· Japan Airlines Plans a San Diego-Tokyo Nonstop
· Marriott Opens Two Courtyard Hotels in France
· Meanwhile, Back at Martin Van Buren Airport ...


United Blames You for Clogged Phones (and Other Unitedspeak)
After trying to fake its way through an "update" on Tuesday by reprinting a week-old report word for word, United Airlines posted an actual new update today (March 22). And you'll be happy to learn that the clogged phone lines and hours-long hold times are your fault. Because of United's myriad computer breakdowns and screwups since the March 3 data combination, you've been calling too often. The problems "are resulting in a higher number of telephone calls to our phone-contact centers, and this is increasing the amount of time it can take for us to respond to your call. We have added staff to our contact centers to serve you better." The update doesn't define what better service is because it's hard to describe two-hour holds as better than anything other than ...three-hour holds. Meanwhile, United insists it has "made good progress correcting a number of technical issues that stemmed from a very complex system conversion." The same conversion, you'll recall, that United spokespeople contemporaneously claimed was nearly perfect. The update does grudgingly admit that United has fouled up the upgrade process and still hasn't fixed a crucial ticketing problem for travelers who booked passage on the pre-conversion United computers. Finally, a note for MileagePlus members who can't access their account because United changed your membership number and never bothered to issue a PIN or password. That problem, too, is your fault because you're not doing what United tells you to do. No matter that what United tells you to do does not work for the untold number of travelers who are stuck and then annoy United by daring to call and ask for a fix.

Delta Re-Times Shuttle Flights, Alaska Air Shifts Terminals at LAX
The continuing degradation of the East Coast Shuttle services between New York/LaGuardia, Boston/Logan and Washington/National gets another wrinkle next week. With virtually no notice, Delta Air Lines says its shuttle flights will begin operating at the top of the hour instead of its historic bottom-of-the-hour schedule. The new timing kicks in on Sunday (March 25) and you can see the new schedule here. The competitive US Airways Shuttle will not change times, so its flights, too, will fly at the top of the hour. ... United Airlines is dropping flights from its Denver hub to Oakland. That means United is totally out of Oakland. ... Alaska Airlines and several other carriers shifted terminals at Los Angeles International this week. Alaska has moved into the renovated Terminal 6. It has opened an Alaska Board Room in Terminal 6, too. Great Lakes Airlines left Terminal 6 for Terminal 3. Meanwhile, AirTran Airways has moved into Terminal 1 to be with its owner, Southwest Airlines. ... The Transportation Security Administration has expanded its PreCheck program to two more airports: Chicago/O'Hare and Washington/National. That means that PreCheck, which allows chosen elite flyers to keep their shoes and jackets on and keep their laptops in their carry-ons, is now testing at 12 airports nationwide.

Marriott Opens Two Courtyard Properties in France
The global expansion of one of American's great inventions--good, cheap(ish) chain hotels--continues apace. Marriott this week opened two Courtyard properties in France, the bastion of overpriced grand dames. There's now a 123-room Courtyard next to the town hall in Montpellier and a 113-room Courtyard in Boulogne, about 20 minutes by Metro from city center Paris. ... Hilton has opened a 463-room Conrad Hotel inside the shell of the former Embassy Suites in Battery Park City in downtown Manhattan. All of the accommodations in the Conrad are also suites and use the same footprint as the old Embassy Suites. ... A former Holiday Inn in New Orleans has been renovated and converted to a 170-room Hyatt Place hotel. The property is near the New Orleans Convention Center.

Thai Dumps LAX-Bangkok Nonstops, JAL Will Fly to San Diego
Thai Airways is once again giving up on its Los Angeles-Bangkok nonstop. The route, operated with Airbus A340-500 ultra-long-haul aircraft, has already been cut back to five days a week and will disappear entirely on April 30. It'll be replaced by a Los Angeles-Seoul-Bangkok run that starts on May 1. That'll operate four days a week with a Boeing 777-200ER and without a premium-economy class. ... Japan Airlines says that it'll launch San Diego-Tokyo/Narita nonstops next March using Boeing's new Dreamliner 787 aircraft. It's the same plane that JAL will use to launch its Boston-Narita flights next month. We'll have more on that route's progress, and the strange configuration that JAL has chosen for its Dreamliners, next week. ... Attention Global Entry members: The Customs-bypass service is now available at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways says that it'll add Gogo in-flight WiFi to 90 percent of its mainline jet fleet and to EMB-190 aircraft used on some US Airways Express flights. It'll take until the end of next year for all the planes to be wired. ... The Virgin airlines--Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia--have linked frequent flyer plans. Points you accrue in any of the three programs can be used to claim awards to any destination served by a Virgin carrier. ... Montana flyers take note: Silver Airlines will launch weekday flights between Helena and Billings on May 1. The Beechcraft 1900 flights are the first linking the state capital and Montana's most-populous city in some time. ... The dispute between ground workers at Frankfurt Airport and the airport's operating authority has been settled. Strikes by the ground workers crippled Frankfurt-based Lufthansa for several days earlier this year. But we're not out of the woods yet. Another union, Verdi, has called a strike for Tuesday morning at several German airports, including Frankfurt and Munich. Those are Lufthansa's major hubs.

Meanwhile, Back at Martin Van Buren International Airport ...
Little Rock Airport soon will be renamed in honor of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Arkansas' most famous political power couple. I think that leaves Millard Fillmore as the only president without an airport named after him. Well, maybe him and James Buchanan. And probably the Harrisons. And Hillary is not the first Secretary of State with her name on an airport. Don't forget John Foster Dulles. Of course, none of this matters in say, Detroit or Chicago, where they name airport terminals after people no one has ever heard of.

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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.