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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 26-MAY 10, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· United's Huge 1Q Loss Means More Pain for You
· And, as Expected, United Tries to Bribe Us Back
· Southwest and AirTran Link Frequent Flyer Plans
· BA, Hawaiian Air Awards Now Available on AA.com
· Air Berlin Will Fly Nonstop Between LAX and Berlin
· ANA Launches Its Seattle-Tokyo Nonstops in July
· Virgin Atlantic Moves the Bar Out of Business Class


United's Huge 1Q Loss Means More Pain for You
Desperate to explain away a $448 million first-quarter loss and its lagging revenue growth, United Airlines chief executive Jeff Smisek today (April 26) grudgingly admitted that maybe things didn't go quite as well as expected when it switched to pre-merger Continental's computer system. And while he also grudgingly apologized for the horrific service, not too many flyers will hear it, since it came during a private call with security analysts. But that's the point, isn't it? Use a phony apology to explain away awful results to the reliably clueless security analysts while sidestepping the fact that most of United's competitors recorded a profit. Meanwhile, the airline's public face continues to be defiant and dismissive. In an E-mail to United's elite flyers this week, the airline said fixes to the carrier's broken upgrade system will require "several months." There was also no explanation why some travelers are offered low-priced upgrades that aren't available to MileagePlus elite flyers, who are shunted to a waitlist and can't even request upgrades within 24 hours of departure. The unsigned E-mail even informed flyers that they'll have to wait as long as 15 days for some MileagePlus activity to post. Neither United investors nor United elite travelers were impressed. After the loss ($286 million on operations and $162 million of special charges mostly attributed to merger costs), United's shares closed down nearly 4 percent. And as one United elite traveler E-mailed me after his inability to resolve a simple problem despite two days of phone calls: "They are still such a cluster, I'm done flying them until they get their stuff together."

And, Right on Schedule, United Begins Rolling Out the Bribes
Remember last month when I explained that United would eventually try to bribe us back rather than actually fix its problems? Well, just hours after it reported the huge first quarter loss (see above), United started rolling out the bribes. E-mail and direct-mail solicitations are directing unhappy United flyers to the ridiculously named Map Your Dreams Web site. Once you log in, you get an offer for as many as 25,000 bonus miles for four roundtrips flown through July 15. Other travelers are offered fewer miles or are asked to fly more trips. The airline claims that the promotion is "valid only for original recipients" of a bribe solicitation. However, if you log into your MileagePlus account and click here, you might find a customized bribe waiting for you.

A Hilton Property Opens in New York's Other Hampton
Okay, so Binghamton, New York, isn't really New York's other Hampton. It isn't on Long Island (it's near the Pennsylvania border) and it doesn't have a beach and it ain't particularly trendy. But IBM was founded nearby, it had a huge manufacturing base for decades and was a railroad hub, too. And now it has a Homewood Suites by Hilton. The 79-room property is in Vestal and near Binghamton University. ... As far away from New York's Southern Tier as you can imagine, in China's Pearl River Delta, Renaissance has opened a 342-room property in Huizhou. It's located in the Jiang Bei central business district. ... The Hollywood Heights Hotel just off the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles has rebranded itself as the Hilton Garden Inn. The property has 160 rooms. ... Priority Club Rewards players take note: The oceanfront Holiday Inn in Hilton Head, South Carolina, is out of the system and now operates as an independent. You can't cash Priority Club points for awards nights anymore.

Air Berlin Will Launch a Nonstop Between Los Angeles and Berlin
Air Berlin, the Oneworld Alliance carrier now partially owned by Etihad, says it will launch three weekly nonstop flights between Los Angeles and its Berlin hub. The 11-hour flights begin May 11 and will operate to Tegel Airport until June 2, then shift to the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport when it opens on June 3. (See my column this week for more on the new Berlin airport.) The airline will also go to daily service on its New York/JFK-Berlin route effective May 1. ... All Nippon Airways says it'll launch its daily Tokyo/Narita-Seattle route on July 25 using Boeing 777-300ERs instead of waiting for delivery of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The 787s will be used on the run when they finally arrive, however. ... Here's good news for those of you who avoid Virgin Atlantic because of that raucous, sleep-disrupting stand-up bar unwisely placed at the back of the carrier's business-class cabin. Virgin's new Upper Class configuration, already flying one roundtrip a day between Heathrow and JFK (VS003 and VS004), segregates the bar from the business-class seats. The new cabin also features chairs that fold down into longer (87-inch) and wider (by 1.5 inches) beds. The bad news: You still have to flip the seat cushions when you fold down the bed. Virgin says the new Upper Class product will roll out on the rest of its Airbus A330 aircraft during the year. You can see details of the new cabin here.

Southwest and AirTran Finally Link Their Frequent Flyer Plans
Southwest Airlines is struggling with its computer and data capabilities now that it owns AirTran Airways, but there is some progress to report. Southwest has opened up a link between its Rapid Rewards program and AirTran's A+ Rewards plan. Travelers can now move points and credits between the two schemes. Complete details and conversion rates are here. ... The painful data meltdown at United Airlines is way-too-slowly working itself out at MileagePlus. The ability to book Star Alliance awards online seems to have been restored and you can now print out a duplicate of your MileagePlus card here. Many elite travelers still haven't received 2012 credentials and a card is required for club access overseas. ... American AAdvantage members take note: Awards on AAdvantage partners British Airways and Hawaiian Airlines can now be booked on AA.com. As always, however, watch out for those sky-high fuel surcharges that BA adds to awards.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
John Wayne/Orange County airport travelers take note: United Airlines has dropped its nonstops to and from Hawaii. The last regularly scheduled flights to Honolulu end on Monday (April 30). Flights to Maui (OGG) ended on January 2. Continental Airlines has launched the flights in March, 2010. ... Lufthansa says it'll dump first-class cabins from more international flights in the months to come, but won't disclose which routes are on the chopping block. The German carrier also says that it will reconsider its decision not to launch premium economy service since most of its competitors have adopted the so-called "fourth class." ... KLM says it will introduce a fully flat business-class seat next year, a sure sign that its parent, Air France, will adopt flat-bed seats, too. Air France is the last major European carrier that has resisted what virtually all airlines worldwide now admit is the cost of entry in the business-class arena. ... National and Alamo opened joint car-rental stations at three locations in Trinidad and Tobago.

And Now for Something Completely Italian...
Italy's less-than-stellar state railway operator, Gruppo Ferrovie, now has a competitor. The privately owned, high-speed Italo train network is now online. Italo trains offer five levels of service and leave it to Italians to call their best product "Club," the second-best "Prima" and have a special class just for movie fans. The cherry-red Italo train cars already operate on key routes between Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna and Milan. Complete details (in English) are 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.