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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 9 TO 23, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Same Old Same Old: United Continues to Collapse
· Guess What? We Don't Hate the TSA After All
· Frontier Overhauls Schedule for Zillionth Time
· WestJet Thinks We're as Dumb as Airline Execs
· Bad Week for American, Worse One for US Air
· Interjet Starts New York/JFK-Mexico City Flights
· The Paper Ticket Gets Its Final Punch at Amtrak


Same Old Same Old: United Continues to Deteriorate
Honest, fellow flyers. This isn't old news. Every week brings more evidence that United Airlines has fallen into a hole and continues to dig deeper into the muck. Who knows where rock bottom is now? Here are this week's big data points: FlightStat.com's compilation of on-time performance in July shows that United is once again dead last and far below the operational efficiency of its competitors. In July, just 65.7 percent of United flights operated on-time. That's 17 points below US Airways, which led the legacy carriers with an 82.5 percent rating. FlightStats figures also reveal that United cancelled more than 1,110 flights in July, more than twice as many as American Airlines and three times as many as Delta Air Lines. United's 20,000 delays in July were almost double the American rate and 40 percent higher than Delta. And passengers are noticing the problems. United this week said that traffic fell by 2.8 percent in July and PRASM (passenger revenue per available seat mile) was flat. That's the worst in the industry. Investors are noticing, too. A month before its disastrous computer combination on March 2, United (UAL) hit $25.84 a share. It closed today (August 9) at $17.89, a 30 percent decline. And this note: The Transportation Department's monthly rating of airlines was published this week and reports numbers for June. United was dead last in all categories: on-time performance, checked-bag efficiency, the rate of denied boarding and consumer complaints. In fact, United and its commuter carriers accounted for more than half of all complaints registered against the industry in June.

Guess What? We Don't Hate the TSA After All
Business flyers aren't enamored of the TSA and its tin-starred, blue-shirted pseudo-cops at the checkpoints. But it turns out that we don't actually hate the agency or think it's doing a particularly bad job. In fact, according to a Gallup poll released this week, 54 percent of Americans think the TSA is doing good or excellent work. And the more Gallup's poll respondents traveled, the better their impression of the TSA. Of course, it's not all sweetness and light, so you might want to drill down to the specifics and crosstabs yourself. However, it's worth noting that the August edition of the Transportation Department's Air Travel Consumer Report offers some statistical support for Gallup's conclusions. It registered only around 1,500 complaints about the TSA in June and only 26 passengers actually complained about the screening methods or procedures. Most of the complaints were about damaged luggage or courtesy.

Frontier Overhauls Its Schedule for the Zillionth Time
It's getting harder than ever to figure out what the master plan is for Frontier Airlines, the weird mashup of dead-to-the-world Midwest Airlines and the original Frontier. Let's assume that the current thinking at the airline is to exploit odd niches on the national route map. On November 16, for example, the airline launches twice-weekly flights between Orlando and Trenton, New Jersey. It's the first commercial service to Trenton in several years. The same day, Frontier will revive flights from its Denver hub to Fargo, North Dakota. There will be three weekly flights on the route that Frontier launched and abandoned in 2010. The next day, the airline will start three weekly nonstops between Orlando and Greensboro, North Carolina. All three routes will be operated with 138-seat Airbus A319s. ... InterJet, the south-of-the-border version of JetBlue, has launched daily flights from New York/Kennedy to its hub in Mexico City. Like JetBlue, the airline offers 34 inches of legroom and individual video screens on its 150-seat Airbus A320s. The airline also flies to Miami and San Antonio.

WestJet Thinks Flyers Are Almost as Dumb as Airline Executives
WestJet is adding a premium economy service to its fleet of Boeing 737s. The first four rows will soon offer seats with 36 inches of legroom. To make room for the roomier seats (which the Canadian discounter will sell at a premium, of course), the airline is shrinking legroom in its traditional coach cabin. WestJet planes, which have offered 32 to 34 inches of pitch at virtually all chairs, will switch to the industry-standard 31 inches. Coach seats will "get a little tighter," admits WestJet chief executive Gregg Saretsky, yet he claims that passengers won't "feel any impact from the reconfiguration, but we'll certainly get the revenue benefit." In other words, Saretsky thinks passengers are so dumb that they won't miss as much as three inches of legroom, but will pay him more to buy up to the new service that offers extra seat pitch. ... Eva Air of Taiwan, which will join the Star Alliance next year, and United Airlines will begin code-sharing on August 11. That's when you'll see United flights from several of its hubs carrying EVA's code to connect with EVA-operated flights to Taipei from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

A Bad Week for American Airlines, a Worse One for US Airways
This wasn't a particularly good week for American Airlines, which continues to be dogged by the insane meme that US Airways can somehow manage a reverse merger with the bankrupt carrier. But it was an even worse week for US Airways. For starters, we learned that the Federal Aviation Administration has filed a claim of $162 million against American Airlines to cover potential fines for multiple safety violations that date back to 2007. Then the airline's pilots overwhelmingly rejected American's supposedly "last, best" contract offer. That means the bankruptcy-court judge will decide whether to abrogate the existing contract between the pilots and the airline. After the vote was decided on Wednesday (August 8), the pilots union's president resigned. Of course, it was worse at US Airways. Its stock tanked this week, continuing a three-week plummet that began on July 17. That's when US Airways chief executive Doug Parker gave a speech and insisted US Airways was "ready" for a merger with American and couldn't guarantee that it would wait "forever." US Airways shares were selling at $14.07 when Parker spoke. Today, LCC closed at $10.05, down almost 29 percent.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines tried for a fare increase for the second time in two weeks, but other carriers didn't match. Shame, really, considering what a bang-up job United is doing running its planes on-time and delivering checked bags. ... Speaking of checked luggage, American Airlines and a third-party luggage-delivery service have teamed up to create a product for American customers. For an inflated fee, American's contractor will deliver your checked bags to your home, hotel or office within four hours of landing. Assuming, of course, that American didn't "mishandle" your bag before it ever got to your destination airport. More details and pricing are here. ... Remember Larry Craig, the former Idaho senator who literally got caught with his pants down at Minneapolis-St. Paul? According to Fox News, Craig claims the trip was official business, which would exempt him from a mess of financial costs. Complete details are here.

The Paper Ticket Gets Its Final Punch at Amtrak
Amtrak has finally joined the Internet revolution. The national passenger railroad now finally accepts electronic tickets on all trains. That means no stop at a ticket counter or a kiosk for a traditional paper ticket. Amtrak now sends customers an E-mail with a printable ticket and travelers can show the E-ticket to conductors as proof of paid passage. It also means that conductor "ticket punches" have been consigned to railroading history. Ain't progress a wonderful thing?

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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.