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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 17 - MAY 31, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· National Airport Gets Eight New Long-Haul Routes
· United Drops to the Bottom of the DOT Ratings
· New Berlin Airport Pushed Back Until Next March
· Crude Oil Plummets, Dollar Firms Against the Euro
· International Routes Come and Go This Autumn
· Delta.com Overpriced Fares for SkyMiles Members
· Must to Avoid This Weekend: Sports-Crazed LA


Washington's National Airport Gets Eight New Long-Haul Routes
A new federal law allows Washington's Reagan National Airport to add four new long-haul flights from smaller carriers this year and seven airlines applied for new service. The Transportation Department announced the winners this week. Southwest Airlines will run a daily flight to Austin with continuing service to San Diego. Alaska Air will launch a daily flight to Portland, Oregon. JetBlue Airways will fly to San Juan. Virgin America will get a nonstop to its hub in San Francisco. All four carriers are required to start the flights by September 8. The four legacy carriers--American, Delta, US Airways and United--are also permitted to add long-haul routes. United began nonstops to San Francisco this week. American will fly to Los Angeles beginning June 14. Delta will add service to its Salt Lake City hub on June 7 and US Airways launches nonstops to San Diego on July 8.

United Inherits the Wind and Falls to the Bottom of DOT Ratings
United Airlines' slow-motion collapse since its data conversion is now getting a statistical outline, too. In the Air Travel Consumer Report, released Monday (May 14) and covering March, the first month after United switched systems, the airline finished at or near the bottom of all of the major categories. United's 77.4 percent on-time rating in March was about five points below the industry average (82.2 percent) and nearly 10 points below US Airways, the current legacy leader. Its "mishandled baggage" rate of 3.97 reports per 1,000 passengers was about 25 percent worse than industry average of 3.09 reports and the worst of all legacy lines. United's denied-boarding rate of 1.73 was worst in class and nearly twice as bad as the industry average of 0.91. As for direct customer complaints to the Transportation Department, 260 of the industry total of 759 were about United Airlines. No other carrier generated even 75 complaints.

New Berlin Airport Opening Pushed Back Until Next March
The much-anticipated new airport for Berlin, Brandenburg Willy Brandt, now won't open until at least March, 2013. The startling delay, coming just a week after a two-month delay was announced, is apparently due to a lack of fire-prevention systems. The airport was expected to open next month. After the delay was announced, the airport's managing director for operations resigned and the airport's general contractor was fired. Until the airport opens, travelers headed to Berlin will continue to use Tegel (TXL) and Schoenefeld (SXF). ... All airlines using Cincinnati are now operating from the so-called "main terminal," which used to be called Terminal 3. It's the only terminal still operating now that Delta Air Lines has largely dismantled its hub at CVG. Delta uses what is now called Concourse B. All other carriers have moved into the renovated 16-gate Concourse A, which opened this week.

Crude Oil Plummets, the Dollar Firms Against the Euro
Crude oil was selling for less than $93 a barrel on New York markets today (May 17), down from this year's high of just under $110 on February 24. That should keep fares from rising in the medium term, at least until oil jumps up again. ... The dollar is firming up against the euro, which fell below $1.27 today. ... A temporary technocrat government is now running Greece pending another election on June 17. If polls are accurate, parties that reject the harsh austerity measures imposed on the country may emerge as the new majority. That might mean the exit of Greece from the euro and shake the foundation of the 23-nation currency. ... By the way, if you despair of finding enough news about the Greek situation in U.S. newspapers and cable-news networks, try the English-language Athens News. ... Federal agencies have been ordered to cut their travel budgets by 30 percent, according to The Business Journals.

They Come and They Go On International Routes Around the World
Airlines around the world continue to fiddle with their route networks, adding and dropping routes so quickly that it's hard to keep track. So pay attention for this week's changes. British Airways says that it will launch flights between Las Vegas and London/Gatwick Airport on October 29. The three weekly flights, using a Boeing 777 configured with business, premium economy and coach classes, complement BA's daily Las Vegas-London/Heathrow service. ... Hawaiian Airlines says that it will launch three weekly flights between Honolulu and Sapporo, Japan, in November. Hawaiian already flies from Honolulu to Tokyo/Narita, Osaka and Fukuoka. ... Cayman Airways will fly once a week between Dallas/Fort Worth and Grand Cayman between June 23 and September 2. ... Virgin Atlantic says that it is dumping London/Heathrow-Nairobi, Kenya, flights on September 23. No U.S. carrier flies to Nairobi. ... Singapore Airlines, which is now losing money, will slash two routes from its network. Effective October 26, it will "suspend" service to Abu Dhabi and Athens from its hub at Changi Airport. No word on when SIA will begin cutting cities that begin with other letters of the alphabet. But watch out, Bangalore.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says that a glitch caused Delta.com to display higher fares to SkyMiles members than the prices shown to travelers who hadn't logged on to the site. The "glitch" apparently lasted for three weeks. The Associated Press has the details. ... Henry Kissinger got the TSA pat-down recently, according to the Washington Post. ... Republic Airlines will take over the flying of Q400 aircraft operating United Express flights. The service had been operated by Colgan Air, which is owned by bankrupt Pinnacle Airlines. Pinnacle will continue to fly for Delta Connection, Delta's commuter operation. ... JetBlue Airways has still another international interline partner. It has signed up Turkish Airlines and will coordinate service at both New York/Kennedy and Washington/Dulles.

Must to Avoid This Weekend: Los Angeles, Center of the Sports World
You may want to avoid Los Angeles this weekend--or at least stay far away from the area around the Staples Center, where there will be five playoff games in 48 hours. On Friday night, basketball's Los Angeles Lakers host the Oklahoma Thunder at the arena, located about 18 miles from LAX. On Saturday afternoon, the other Los Angeles basketball team, the Clippers, host the San Antonio Spurs. Saturday evening brings another Lakers-Thunder game. At noon on Sunday, there'll be a hockey playoff game featuring the hometown Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes. Then, on Sunday evening, it'll be another Clippers-Spurs game. Complicating matters even more on Sunday is the Tour of California, one of the world's largest bicycle races. Upwards of 100,000 spectators will line the streets around the Staples Center, the race's finish line. The event is scheduled to end about 30 minutes before the aforementioned hockey game.

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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.