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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 10 - MAY 24, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· American Dumping Most International First Class
· A Slew of New (Old) Hyatts -- and a Departure
· A Bad Day at O'Hare Shows United's Data Woes
· Another Greek Tragedy: Athens Flights Disappear
· Sea-Tac Opens Consolidated Rental-Car Facility
· Priority Club Rewards Drops Amex Partnership
· Delta Buys a Refinery -- and Oil Prices Plunge


American Dumping Most International First Class ... Very Slowly
Bankrupt American Airlines is all but abandoning the first-class cabins on its overseas routes. That's the takeaway from a chock-full-of-Babel press release that American issued this week touting aircraft retrofits that won't even start until 2014. That's right, American Airlines is talking about stuff that won't even start for two years, so we can assume it'll take until the Twelfth of Never before you'll see the product everywhere. Still, here's what we know about what's coming out of American's long, slow pipeline:
    The existing fleet of 47 Boeing 777-200ERs will be reconfigured with business class, coach and the premium economy section that American has dubbed Main Cabin Extra. Without offering specifications or showing actual seats--in other words, American hasn't designed them yet--the carrier promises business-class sections will have as many as 45 fully flat beds. American promises that there'll be no middle seats in the new cabins. The planes will also have as many as 45 premium-economy and 170 coach seats.
    The airline's fleet of 58 Boeing 767-300ERs will be cut in half. Those that survive will be reconfigured with as many as 28 fully flat beds with no middle seats. There will be 14 premium-economy and 167 coach seats.
    The last bastion of international first class will be on the ten Boeing 777-300ERs that join American's fleet in the next 18 months. You can assume these planes will be used on routes to London to maintain harmony with American's Oneworld and joint-venture partner British Airways. The airline says the planes will also be deployed on routes to Sao Paulo.

A Slew of New (Old) Hyatts -- and One That's Getting Deflagged
There will be many new Hyatt hotels in the next few months. Well, new-ish. The chain will reflag several major hotels that most of us know by other brand names. In Hyatt's hometown of Chicago, a new owner purchased the 417-room Wyndham Chicago on North St. Clair just off North Michigan Avenue. They are bringing in Hyatt to manage the property and it'll be rebranded as the Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile. In Mexico City, Hyatt has purchased the 756-room Hotel Nikko, which overlooks Chapultepec Park. The hotel will undergo about $40 million in renovations, the room count will be reduced to 734 and it'll emerge as the Hyatt Regency Mexico City. Meanwhile, a 204-room Hyatt Place will open next week in Braintree, Massachusetts. The new property across from South Shore Plaza is built on the site of one of the nation's most photographed hotels. Until a few years ago, it was where a red-brick, castle-styled Sheraton loomed over Route 128. But it's not all former castles and parkside hotels. Hyatt announced this week that it'll strip its name off the 14-story, 772-room Hyatt Dearborn. Opened in 1976, it had been the Michigan city's dominant meetings and convention hotel. Hyatt's exit from Dearborn follows Ritz-Carlton's 2010 departure from the hotel now known as The Henry.

A Bad Day at O'Hare Shows United's Continuing Computer Problems
If you were unlucky enough to be flying to, from or through Chicago/O'Hare last Sunday (May 6), the lousy weather made for a dreadful travel day. But it also revealed how much trouble pre-merger United Airlines employees have had adopting to United's new computer system, which, of course, is the old Continental Airlines network. According to FlightStats.com, United actually got a better proportion (36 percent) of its flights into O'Hare than American Airlines (32 percent on-time arrivals). But with a slew of irregular operations to manage, the pre-merger United employees showed that they still aren't up to speed on Continental's computers. Only 26 percent of United's flights departed O'Hare on-time last Sunday. Even though it had more flights coming in late, American managed to get 41 percent of its O'Hare departures out on-time. Don't think the carriers' respective travelers didn't notice. American's performance last Sunday generated just five comments at FlyerTalk.com. United's operations created a nine-page thread with 133 gripes. Check post 128 on page nine for a frightening photo and the flyer's claim that there were just two United customer service agents handling the gigantic scrum.

Another Greek Tragedy: Flights to Athens Disappear
The shambolic political and economic situation in Greece is having a knock-on effect on business travelers: Flights to Athens are disappearing. It was buried in all of the other bad news emanating from United Airlines, but the carrier dumped its Newark-Athens route last fall. Continental had started the run with much fanfare--and daily service--in 2007. Delta Air Lines dropped its seasonal Atlanta-Athens flights after last season, too. Now comes word that Delta will drop its New York/Kennedy-Athens route on October 26. Olympic Air, the oft-reorganized Greek flag carrier, has been code-sharing on Delta's Kennedy service ever since dropping its own flights in 2009. Another Greek carrier, Hellenic Imperial, lasted just a few weeks on a Kennedy-Athens nonstop it launched last summer. The only other service to Greece, a Philadelphia-Athens nonstop operated by US Airways, will end its seasonal run on September 29.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Seattle-Tacoma flyers take note: A consolidated car-rental facility opens next Thursday (May 17). There will be shared shuttle buses and pick-up locations outside baggage claims at both ends of the main terminal. At the moment, on-airport rental firms operate from the parking garage across from the terminal. ... American Express Membership Rewards is losing another points-transfer partner. Effective July 1, Priority Club Rewards, the frequency program of the InterContinental Hotels brands, leaves the Amex plan. ... Air India is fighting with its pilots over a training program for Boeing 787 jets. The result: cancelled flights and fired pilots.

How to Get Oil Prices Down? Let an Airline Buy a Refinery
It's well established that legacy airlines destroy capital and do a poor job of treating customers well. It may turn out that airlines can't make money in the oil business, either. As you'll recall, Delta Air Lines announced a plan to buy a disused oil refinery near Philadelphia on Monday, April 30. Oil was then selling for $106 a barrel on New York markets. This week, crude oil dipped as low as $95 a barrel, its lowest price since December. It closed today (May 10) around $97.

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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.