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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 2 TO 16, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Fly-Over Country Gets New Hotels and New Flights
· WestJet Adds Premium Economy Section on B737s
· JetBlue Adds Even More 'Even More Space' Seats
· Lufthansa Hopes FRA Will Go Back to the Future
· Hotel Conversions, Reflags and Openings, Oh My!
· Delta Will Shut Down Comair Commuter Operation
· And Now for Something Completely Political...


Fly-Over Country Gets New Hotels and Even Some New Flights
It's okay to admit it: Fly-Over country got its name because "power" business travelers too often obsess over happenings on the coasts and the big hubs in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. But just because it doesn't get much attention, Fly-Over country isn't a dead zone. In fact, hotel chains and airlines are actually paying attention these days. Among the new properties you'll find in the heartland: a 92-room Residence Inn in Bismarck, North Dakota; a 97-room Homewood Suites by Hilton in Joplin, Missouri; a 111-room Cambria Suites in Rapid City, South Dakota; and an 88-room SpringHill Suites in Enid, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, there will actually be some new flights to get you to more places in the heartland. On October 11, Frontier Airlines will launch four weekly Airbus A319 flights from its Denver hub to Rapid City. And on November 4, United Express will launch daily ERJ-145 flights from Denver to Williston, North Dakota.

WestJet Adds Premium Economy, JetBlue Expands It on E-190s
WestJet, the all-coach discount carrier that is Air Canada's biggest domestic competitor, is making still another pitch for the business of business flyers. Beginning this month, it will reconfigure its Boeing 737s to add a premium-economy service with extra legroom at each chair. The first 24 seats on the plane--four rows configured 3x3--will have 36 inches of pitch and other on-board amenities. The conversion work is due to be completed fleetwide by December. WestJet didn't release a name for the product, or, more importantly, any pricing. One thing we do know, however, is that the extra legroom up front will come at the expense of other coach passengers. WestJet says standard coach seats will go down to the industry-standard, knee-crunching 31 inches. ... JetBlue Airways says its premium economy product, Even More Space, has been expanded on its fleet of Embraer E190s. Sixteen seats--in rows 1, 12, 13 and 14 configured 2x2--now have 38 or 39 inches of legroom.

Lufthansa Hopes Frankfurt's Pier A-Plus Takes It Back to the Future
One of the reasons why international business travelers once loved Frankfurt as a transfer airport was because you could change planes in as little as 45 minutes. But recent developments--the opening of a second terminal, growth of the original terminal and the coalescing of Star Alliance flights--made fast, simple transfers at Frankfurt a misty watercolor memory. But Lufthansa, Frankfurt's hometown airline and the European anchor of the Star Alliance, expects a revival of the airport as a no-hassle hub when Pier A-Plus opens on October 10. The airline's Frankfurt station manager, Andreas Doepper, says all of the carrier's A380 operations will move to the newly constructed terminal with the start of the winter schedule late in October. Moreover, virtually all of Lufthansa and Star Alliance partner United's transatlantic flights will operate from Pier A-Plus. The vast majority of flights to and from the Schengen Area of Europe will also use the 185,000-square-meter facility. Doepper says that means Europe-originating flights to the United States using Frankfurt as a transfer point can return to 45-minute connecting times. Flights originating from the United States and headed to Europe via Frankfurt could move to a 45-minute connect time as early as next spring. More details about A-Plus are here.

Conversions and Reflags and Openings, Oh My!
Lots of new hotels this week, so follow the bouncing brand flags to keep up. Marriott has rebranded the 201-suite Cascadia Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has assigned it to the Residence Inn chain. Marriott has also opened a 70-room Fairfield Inn hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. It's at 6851 West Freeway. ... Starwood has converted a 265-room former Crowne Plaza in Tampa and renamed it the Sheraton Tampa East. It has also reopened the Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian, Spain. The 197-room property has undergone a $25 million restoration and been assigned to the Luxury Collection. Finally, Starwood has also opened a dual-branded operation at the ski resort complex in Changbaishan, China. There's a 297-room Sheraton and a 262-room Westin. ... A 136-room Homewood Suites by Hilton has opened in the University City area of Philadelphia. The property is located at 4109 Walnut Street.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines will shut Comair, the commuter airline it purchased in 1999 for $2 billion. Cincinnati-based Comair, which flies mostly smaller regional jets, closes on September 29. That means Delta's Cincinnati hub, which the airline has been downsizing for years, will probably lose even more flights. ... Baltimore-Washington International now offers free WiFi in public areas. BWI travelers will get 40 minutes of Internet access in exchange for watching ads. ... Here's an awful trend: Air Canada says a passenger found a sewing needle in a sandwich on a flight headed from Victoria to Toronto. Sewing needles were found last week in several sandwiches served on Delta flights from Amsterdam. Different catering companies were involved in the two incidents.

And Now for Something Completely Political...
Nine-term Ohio Republican Congressman Steven LaTourette announced his retirement this week. One of the few moderates left in the House Republican delegation, LaTourette had been a force on the Transportation Committee. He's quitting, he says, because he can't take the partisan bickering in Congress. But his fight isn't really with Democrats. He's been a frequent target of conservatives who labeled him a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and he clashed frequently with House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-FL). If you believe The Hill, the final straw for LaTourette was his disagreement with fellow Republicans over a recently passed transportation bill. Roll Call also delved into LaTourette's surprise decision.

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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.