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THE BRIEFING FOR SEPTEMBER 20-30, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· American Joins United at the Bottom of the Barrel
· TSA Opens Several New PreCheck Airport Lanes
· JetBlue Adds Charleston Flights From Boston, JFK
· Berlin Brandenburg Opening Delayed. Again.
· Marriott Goes Back to the Future on Central Park
· Hyatt Converts Two Avia Hotels to Andaz Chain
· United Will Restore Expert Mode to Its Web Site


American Joins United at the Bottom of the Operational Barrel
How badly has American Airlines been running this week? Here is the best way to explain it: American has had more delays and cancelled flights than even woeful United Airlines, which has been dead last in the ratings since the March computer meltdown. On Monday (September 17), American's worst day this week, arrivals were just 39 percent on-time and it cancelled an appalling 107 of 1,861 flights. As of 10 p.m. tonight (September 20), American was hardly running any better, with arrivals running at just 52 percent on-time. Arrivals were also below 50 percent most of the rest of the week. American has responded by pre-cancelling as much as two percent of its flights through October. The problem: Pilots, unhappy with bankrupt American's abrogation of their contract, are calling in sick at a higher rate than usual. They are also "writing up" a lot of maintenance problems that would otherwise be ignored. Since American got bankruptcy-court approval to dump their contract, the pilots can't legally strike or organize a job action. But it's not hard to figure out how the pilots, who have incredible latitude in what constitutes being unfit to fly and what to report as a mechanical, can mount a job action without being officially organized. Is there any good news here? Uh, actually, no. With both United (running in the low 60-percent on-time range in recent months) and American in chaos, we're running out of empty seats on airlines that are running near to schedule. (Statistics from FlightStats.com.)

Here a PreCheck, There a PreCheck, Everywhere a PreCheck Lane
We're still not exactly sure why and how the TSA chooses approved travelers for PreCheck clearance from day to day or flight to flight, but at least there are now many more PreCheck lanes to confuse us. In recent days, the TSA has added PreCheck at Philadelphia International (Checkpoint C at Terminal B/C), which will mostly aid US Airways flyers. The agency also opened PreCheck at Checkpoint 3C in Terminal C at Newark Airport and that will mostly help United Airlines flyers. There is also a PreCheck lane in the Main Terminal of Cincinnati, which would mostly help Delta Air Lines flyers if Delta actually still operated any flights at CVG. (Okay, I'm kidding ... a little.) Although it's never wise to count your PreCheck lanes before they hatch, it looks like the TSA next plans to add them at the main terminal of Washington/Dulles next week and in Pittsburgh in October. Here's the current complete rundown of PreCheck locations.

JetBlue Adds Charleston to Its Route Map
One of the nation's best cities with lousy air service, Charleston, South Carolina, doesn't have to be blue about it much longer. Well, actually, blue is good news. JetBlue Airways is adding flights to Charleston from its two big Northeast cities: Boston/Logan and its hub at New York/Kennedy. There'll be twice-daily nonstops from New York and one from Boston. JetBlue will use E190s on both routes, which begin on February 28. ... Frontier Airlines continues to add and subtract routes with reckless and idiotic abandon. It'll drop flights from Akron-Canton, Ohio; Sacramento, California; and Provo, Utah. New on its route map will be flights to Minot, North Dakota (November 5), and Cleveland (beginning January 9). ... Porter Airlines has opened a passenger lounge next to its gate in Terminal B at Newark Airport. And here's a twist: It's open to all of the carrier's passengers.

Opening Up Brandenburg Taking Longer Then Tearing Down the Wall
From the moment that the Berlin Wall came down, burghers of the reunited city have been plotting an airport that befits the capital of a unified Germany. It took nearly a decade just to settle on the idea of Brandenburg Airport, which occupies some of the land where the ramshackle Schoenefeld sits. Templehof, Berlin's close-in icon, was closed. And Tegel was supposed to close when Brandenburg debuted. The original plan called for the project to open last year. That date slipped and everyone geared up for an opening this past June. Just before opening day, however, Germans had to deal with the fact that the airport wasn't ready. Airport authorities floated a November opening, then settled on March, 2013. But, guess what? Even that opening date has now been pushed back. At the moment, the project, which has ballooned in cost to more than $5 billion, is scheduled to open in October, 2013. Maybe. At least that's what airport authorities said earlier this month. I haven't checked in a few days...

Marriott Goes Back to the Future on Central Park
Marriott has converted the Essex House, an 80-year-old, 40-story landmark fronting New York's Central Park, into a JW Marriott property. If that sounds vaguely familiar, you're probably remembering the fact that the hotel was known as the Marriott Essex House from 1969 to 1985. Then the hotel, which now sells 509 guestrooms, became a Nikko and was also operated as a Westin Hotel. It was most recently known as the Jumeirah Essex House and briefly housed Alain Ducasse's first--and absurdly over-the-top--New York restaurant. ... Hyatt has converted two properties that it purchased from LodgeWorks last year into Andaz properties. The former Avia-branded hotels in Savannah and the Napa Valley now carry the Andaz name and have adopted Andaz's policy of offering free in-room beverages and snacks. ... Starwood has opened two more hotels in China: the 396-room Sheraton Fuzhou in Fujian Province and the mammoth Sheraton Macao in the Cotai Strip development. The property has nearly 4,000 rooms.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has backed off a decision to remove "expert mode" from its Web site. After pulling it off the site earlier this month, the airline says that it will return soon as an opt-in feature. Expert mode helps flyers determine how many available seats remain in each fare bucket on a specific flight and that helps them better their chances of a status upgrade. ... American Airlines has signed SkyWest as an American Eagle partner. It's part of American's goal of downsizing its fully owned commuter operation, which it unsuccessfully tried to sell last year before it declared bankruptcy. ... Delta Air Lines has raised the price of some SkyMiles awards, mostly at mid- and high-level tiers to international destinations. The changes were made abruptly and without public announcement earlier this month. Delta apparatchiks claim the airline can't give advance notice of award hikes because they are "pricing changes" that, by government regulation, cannot be pre-announced. It's an argument no airline has ever made before. Most of the increases are about 5,000 miles per segment. ... That bad storm around Chicagoland on July 13 led to 18 tarmac delays of more than three hours, according to the latest Transportation Department report. Almost all of them belong to United Airlines and its commuter carriers, of course.

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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.