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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 24 - JUNE 7, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta and Southwest Solve Each Other's Problems
· A Revived Sonesta Takes From InterContinental
· El Al Adds a Premium-Economy Class of Service
· Southwest Building Overseas Facilities at Hobby
· Clear Registered-Travel Program Reopens at SFO
· Five Cable Companies Link Their WiFi Systems
· Hilton's Owner Buys Motel 6. Don't Get Any Ideas


Isn't That Special: Delta and Southwest Solve Each Other's Problems
I don't know if Dana Carvey is still doing his Church Lady schtick, but this is certainly one of those "Isn't That Special! moments: Delta and Southwest cut a deal this week that conveniently solves each other's fleet issues. Wanting to dump the Boeing 717s it picked up when it purchased AirTran Airways, Southwest has struck what it calls "a very complex transaction that requires time and close coordination with multiple parties" to transfer the planes to Delta. Delta is desperate for the 717s because it is trying to shed its unpopular, fuel-guzzling fleet of 50-seat regional jets. Over a two-year period, beginning in the middle of next year, Southwest will send as many as 88 of the 717s to Delta. Boeing will be involved in the transaction, too. Southwest will replace the 717s with Boeing 737s, the only plane it likes to fly and an aircraft that can seat between 143 and 175 passengers. Delta will not only use the 117-seat 717s, it'll also acquire some 76-seat regional jets to replace as many as 325 of the 50-seat boondoggles that it currently flies. Several ancient DC-9s Delta inherited in the merger with Northwest Airlines will also be retired.

A Revived Sonesta Takes a Chunk Out of InterContinental's Family
The once-well-known Sonesta hotel brand was purchased this past winter by Hospitality Properties Trust (HPT), a real estate firm that owns hundreds of lodging properties. HPT's plan to revive the Sonesta chain? Convert hotels it already owns to Sonesta and pull them out of the various brand systems operated by InterContinental. Two Crowne Plaza hotels--in Philadelphia and on Hilton Head Island--have already been reflagged as Sonesta properties. Two hotels that have been flying the InterContinental flag--in Baltimore and Houston--are now also trading as Sonesta. HPT has also created a sub-brand called Sonesta ES so it can start a line of extended-stay hotels. Two HPT hotels that once flew InterContinental's Staybridge Suites flag are switching to Sonesta ES. The first opens in Burlington on June 11 and a former Staybridge in Orlando moves to Sonesta ES in July. At least a half-dozen other HPT properties in the Staybridge portfolio are scheduled to leave, too. But, wait, there's more: HPT is pulling 20 more properties from InterContinental and moving them to Wyndham. Sixteen Candlewood Suites properties--in Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas and Utah--will become Hawthorne Suites--by the end of August. And four HPT-owned Crowne Plaza properties--in Atlanta and Houston, Irvine and Dallas, Texas--will become Wyndham Hotels. ... The Blackstone Group, which already owns Hilton and LaQuinta, has purchased Motel 6 for $1.9 billion from Accor, the French lodging chain. But don't jump to conclusions. There's no reason believe Blackstone will fold the 1,000-location Motel 6 chain into Hilton HHonors. It hasn't folded LaQuinta into HHonors, has it?

El Al Adds A Premium-Economy Class
El Al says that it'll add a premium-economy service called Economy Class Plus. The product launches July 1 on Boeing 747-400s flying between Tel Aviv and New York/Kennedy and Newark. El Al's version offers seats with 36 inches of legroom, increased recline and footrests. The pillows and blankets come from business class and there'll be a basic amenities kit. The price will be $150 above coach fares and travelers in Economy Class Plus will get separate check-in stations at the airport. Complete details are here. ... American Airlines says that it'll roll out the first of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the Dallas/Fort Worth-Sao Paulo route. Then it'll be DFW-London/Heathrow, New York/JFK-Heathrow and JFK-Sao Paulo. The scheduled dates are here. ... EVA Air of Taiwan says that its new business class will premiere June 2 on a Taipei-New York/JFK flight. The 38-seat cabins offer seats that convert to fully flat beds measuring 79 inches long and 26 inches wide. More details are here. ... Hilton opened a dual-branded operation in Bursa, Turkey. The 187-room side is a Hilton and the 107-room side is a Hampton Inn.

Southwest Gets Approval for International Facilities at Houston/Hobby
Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston, says the city and Southwest Airlines have reached an agreement to build a five-gate international concourse at Hobby Airport. The expansion was furiously opposed by United Airlines, which was defending the primacy of its hub at Bush Intercontinental. United didn't help its case any when it screwed up Parker's vacation travel in the early days of its data conversion and the airline has few friends left in Houston because it chose Chicago as corporate headquarters when it merged in 2010 with Houston-based Continental Airlines. Southwest is offering to foot the $100 million construction cost itself. The agreement still requires approval of the Houston City Council. Southwest wants to launch dozens of flights to the Caribbean and Latin America from Hobby by 2015. ... Clear, the registered-traveler program that is trying to revive its fortunes, has gotten back into a third airport. On Wednesday (May 23), it opened facilities at all terminals at San Francisco Airport. Clear is also back in Orlando and Denver and it is negotiating with Dallas/Fort Worth. Details are here.

Finally, a Reason to Love Your Cable Company
Five cable companies--Time Warner, Cablevision, Cox, Bright House and Xfinity--are linking WiFi services. Any customer with access to one WiFi service will get free access to the other four when they are in the respective service areas. More details are at CableWiFi.com. The five-company consortium can't offer nationwide service, but it does make a compelling--and free--alternative to higher-priced data plans sold by the mobile-phone providers.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines flyers take note: The airline says that its Economy Comfort service will be available beginning June 7 on all flights longer than 750 miles. The service is installed on widebody and narrow-body jet aircraft and four types of regional jets. ... No charges were filed against the French woman who caused the diversion of a US Airways flight from Paris this week when she claimed a bomb had been implanted in her body. US Airways Flight 787 bound for Charlotte instead landed in Bangor on Tuesday (May 22) when the woman made the claim. According to wire-service reports, two doctors who were on the flight had examined her before the diversion and found no visible scars.

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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.