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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 5-APRIL 19, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Southwest Backs Off Some AirTran Changes
· American Resumes Flights to Tokyo/Haneda
· United Drops Service to Copenhagen and Accra
· Citi Makes Improvements to AAdvantage Card
· St. Louis Reopens Tornado-Damaged Concourse
· The Chocolate Chip Cookie Crumbles at Frontier
· United Drops to Bottom of the On-Time Barrel


Fearful of United-like Meltdown, Southwest Backs Off AirTran Changes
It's hard to have much sympathy for United Airlines and its computer foul-up, but some perspective may be in order: Southwest Airlines continues to kick its combination with AirTran Airways down the road specifically because it doesn't have a data system capable of handling the transition. In fact, in some ways, Southwest has had to go backward. Southwest's conversion of AirTran's flights from Atlanta to five cities (Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Chicago/Midway and Las Vegas) has been reversed. For the time being, those routes will revert back to AirTran and its computer system, which can handle connecting passengers and two-class flights. This fall, Southwest will operate just 30 flights from Atlanta, AirTran's pre-merger hub, while AirTran will continue to fly 163 flights. It'll be well into next year before Southwest tries to convert any more AirTran flights in Atlanta, sources say. The only future conversion: AirTran's Des Moines-Chicago/Midway flights, which transition to Southwest on September 30.

American Resumes Haneda Flights, United Drops Accra, Copenhagen
American Airlines says it will reinstate its nonstop route between New York/Kennedy and Tokyo/Haneda on June 1. It'll use a three-class Boeing 777 on the run. ... United Airlines is dropping more international routes. The two-year-old Washington/Dulles to Accra, Ghana, route drops on July 3. Also gone: Continental's former Newark-Copenhagen route, which ends on September 25. ... Good news from Europe: The public-workers contract has been settled, which means the Verdi union won't be mounting any more strikes that could kick the bottom from the schedule of Lufthansa. Bad news: Rather than negotiate with its pilots, Iberia is trying to sue the union into submission. Meanwhile, the union is going ahead with its threat to mount 30 days of strikes between next week and mid-July. Iberia has already posted cancellation notices for flights on April 9, April 13 and April 16. (The cancellations are here.) And you can follow earlier developments in Europe's muddled skies here ... Closer to home, unhappy unions at Air Canada have gone to court to overturn a recently passed Canadian law that prohibits strikes. The unions' logical point: Air Canada is no longer a crown (federally owned) company and should not be treated as a protected firm. Introduced by the Conservative government and passed by Parliament last month, the law also bars Air Canada from locking out employees.

Citi and American Airlines Up Perks on AAdvantage Credit Card
Outflanked in the marketplace by frequent travel credit cards introduced by Chase and American Express in recent months, Citibank and its American Airlines partner are finally responding. Citi this week announced substantial enhancements to the basic AAdvantage credit card. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card will now offer a 10 percent rebate on AAdvantage miles redeemed by cardholders. Cardholders will also get one free checked bag and priority boarding when flying American. Citi will also award double miles on American purchases and has lifted the earnings cap on the card. ... For readers who have been asking: Now that the Continental Presidents Clubs and United Red Carpet Club networks have been combined into the United Club system, Amtrak Guest Rewards members still get free access. Sort of. You have to be at Amtrak's highest elite level, Select Plus, to take advantage of the perk. ... Amex loses another Chase credit card partner, InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards, as a transfer option for Membership Rewards points. Effective July 1, you won't be able to move points to Priority Club. In recent months, Membership Rewards has also lost Marriott Rewards, Southwest Rapid Rewards and Continental Airlines. All of them are Chase partners, too.

Pinnacle Goes Bust, But Only After the Bosses Get Big Raises
Pinnacle Airlines, which operates commuter flights for Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week. One early casualty will be the Q400 flights that Pinnacle's Colgan Air subsidiary operates for United Airlines out of Newark and Washington/Dulles. Pinnacle is caught in the same "race to the bottom" as other commuter airlines. The major carriers continually demand that the commuters fly for less, often far below the cost of operating the service. It's led several commuter carriers to disappear in recent years. But Pinnacle's bankruptcy has a few unique wrinkles. It is embroiled in lawsuits over the 2009 crash of a Continental Connection flight operated by Colgan. Pinnacle's pilot training and its policies on pilot rest are at issue. And just before the bankruptcy, Pinnacle gave huge raises to its top executives. Chief executive Sean Menke got himself a 60 percent raise and executive vice president John Spanjers scored a 45 percent salary bump. Of course, these executives now say that Pinnacle's rank-and-filers will have to make concessions if the company is to survive.

Oh, Say Can You C: St. Louis Gets a Concourse Back
A year after a tornado touched down at St. Louis/Lambert, Concourse C reopened this week. American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and the commuter carrier Cape Air have moved into the renovated and restored facility. There are also several new restaurants. As apparently required by local law, the Budweiser Clydesdales, the symbol of St.-Louis based Anheuser-Busch, were on hand for the reopening. No word on what flight the Clydesdales were on or if they were upgraded to first. ... . Life on the road would have been pretty decent last month if not for United's March madness. Two traditional air-travel choke points--the airports in New York and Chicago--recorded their warmest March temperatures on record, according to the National Weather Service.

The Cookie Crumbles at Frontier (fka Midwest) Airlines
The last vestige of Midwest Airlines has disappeared: Frontier Airlines has stopped baking and distributing chocolate-chip cookies on board its flights. The commuter carrier Republic Airlines purchased and mashed-up Frontier and Midwest two years ago. Republic has admitted that it chose the name Frontier for the surviving entity because it thought using the Midwest name carried a promise of quality that the carrier couldn't sustain. Now it doesn't have the cookies, either. ... Alaska Airlines says that it will start Q400 commuter flights between Portland, Oregon, and Pasco, Washington. Daily service starts August 27. ... JetBlue Airways has another international partner: LOT Polish Airlines. JetBlue will feed traffic to LOT's flights at New York's Kennedy airport.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Among the other specious claims it made after the disastrous March 3 data conversion, United Airlines insisted that it continued to run on-time. Uhhh, nope, that's not true, either. According to statistics for March released this week by FlightStats.com, United finished last among the legacy carriers for on-time operations. Just 75.7 percent of its flights were on-time, nearly 12 points below the performance of US Airways, the best of the legacy airlines. It also cancelled more flights in March than either Delta Air Lines or US Airways. You can read earlier developments in the story here. ... Eva Air, the Taiwan-based carrier, says it will join the Star Alliance. I believe that'll make it the 3,000th airline in the alliance.

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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.