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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 4 TO 18, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· That Was The Awful Week That Was at American
· Hilton Slashes Diamond Elite HHonors Benefits
· TSA Opens PreCheck in Denver, Expands at DFW
· Hyatt Adds Park Hyatt Property in Chennai, India
· Will Qatar Airways Join the Oneworld Alliance?
· Clear Channel Challenges CNN's Airport Monopoly
· Kingfisher Airlines Has Fallen and May Not Get Up


That Was the Awful Week That Was at American Airlines
Just as American Airlines and its unhappy pilots came to a wary truce and the airline's on-time performance was improving, rows of seats came loose on a few of the carrier's fleet of Boeing 757s. The four dozen or so Boeing 757s were serially grounded for inspection earlier this week and then returned to service. But late today (October 4), American started grounding the planes again to install a fix on the clamps that secure the seat rows to the tracks on the cabin floor. That led to a rash of new cancellations that may last until the weekend. As of 10 p.m. ET, FlightStats.com says American was running at 69 percent on-time. The carrier dumped 74 of its 1,736 scheduled departures so far today, a cancellation rate above 4 percent. It won't be much better Friday or Saturday, either. And when you consider AA's Boeing 757s carry about 180 passengers, that is a lot of unhappy flyers. For the week, American's daily on-time rating has been running between 55 and 65 percent. Cancellations had gotten back to normal before today's development. And if those numbers seem awful, consider how bad it was for American flyers in September. FlightStats.com says AA ran at just 59 percent on-time and racked up 21,237 delays and 1,391 cancellations. Meanwhile, American and its pilots, who began a job action when the bankrupt carrier abrogated their contracts, have returned to the bargaining table. And unlike last week, when AA management threatened to take the pilots to court, the airline offered an olive branch: It says it won't implement even more onerous work rules as it originally planned.

Hilton Slashes Diamond-Level Elite Benefits Without Notice. Again.
It has been what, six hours, since Hilton foisted a secret devaluation on its Hilton HHonors members. This time the unannounced hit affects Diamond Level elites, the chain's most frequent customers. Diamond elites no longer get suite upgrades. According to the new wording on the HHonors benefit list, Diamonds now only receive an upgrade to a "preferred room" at full-service properties. Diamonds now receive just two complimentary snacks (instead of three) at Embassy Suites properties. Hilton has also reversed a policy it installed earlier this year that guaranteed Diamonds received bonus points and a free breakfast. Now Diamonds again must choose either bonus points or breakfast. The new cuts mean that Diamond status, which requires 28 stays or 60 nights a year, is not substantially better than HHonors Gold, which requires 16 stays or 36 nights or is free with the $95-a-year Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve. ... American AAdvantage and Oneworld travelers take note: American and British Airways are holding a big event in New York on Monday (October 8) and speculation is that Doha-hubbed Qatar Airways will join the alliance in some form. That would probably mean more global earn-and-burn opportunities for AAdvantage miles.

TSA Rolls Out PreCheck in Denver and Expands It at DFW
The Transportation Security Administration is finally moving with alacrity on PreCheck, its kinda/sorta/maybe security bypass program. Assuming you have been accepted into the program and get chosen for your particular flight, you'll now find PreCheck at the South Checkpoint of Denver International. TSA this week also added more PreCheck options at Dallas/Fort Worth with a location in Terminal E. PreCheck is already available at DFW Terminals A, C and D. For complete details, surf here. That's a new URL since the TSA changed its Web site this week, too. ... Pier A-Plus has opened at Frankfurt Airport. We discussed the promise of Pier A-Plus here. ... Southwest Airlines takes over the Branson flights of its AirTran Airways subsidiary on March 9. Southwest will fly to Dallas/Love Field, Houston/Hobby and Chicago/Midway.

Hyatt Adds Another India Location, Marriott Grabs the Gaylord Name
Like every other hotel chain on the planet, Hyatt is in a mad rush to expand in China and India. This week, the 201-room Park Hyatt Chennai opened in the capital of Tamil Nadu state. The southern Indian city was once called Madras. ... Marriott is now in control of the Gaylord brand, which includes five hotels with 8,100 rooms. One of the hotels, the Radisson Opryland, will be rebranded The Inn at Opryland on December 1. You'll earn Marriott Rewards points at all of them. Separately, Marriott opened a 97-room TownPlace Suites in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ... Hilton added two properties in Mexico. The newly built Hilton Puerto Vallarta is a 259-room all-inclusive resort. And its DoubleTree brand has converted a 96-room independent property near the Parque Tezontle Mall in Mexico City. The hotel is named the DoubleTree Mexico City Airport, but it is far from the city's major airfield. Meanwhile, Hilton's Conrad brand has lost its Brussels branch. The 269-room property will convert to Steigenberger on January 1. The chain also lost the Hilton in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The 268-room hotel is operating as a Crowne Plaza. ... Speaking of Oklahoma, a newly built Holiday Inn Express has opened in Duncan, about 190 miles away.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Kingfisher Airlines, part of an empire controlled by flamboyant beer-and-booze mogul Vijay Mallya, has been shut down all week and won't resume flying until at least October 12. The 7-year-old carrier hasn't paid employees in months, it is deeply in debt and it has shrunk to 10 planes from a fleet that once numbered 64 aircraft. ... U.S. carriers collected $1.7 billion in baggage fees during the first half of the year. Airlines "earned" $1.3 billion in cancellation and change fees during the same time. Both figures were compiled by the Department of Transportation. ... Think South African Airways is the star of African aviation? Guess again. The government of South Africa has had to guarantee the equivalent of US$600 million in loans to keep the airline going. ... Clear Channel, the billboard and radio conglomerate, is coming to the nation's airports. The company is talking to two dozen airports about creating a network for airport television monitors. At the moment, CNN essentially monopolizes monitors at the gates and other public areas of airports. CNN's news programming appears in more than four dozen U.S. airports. Clear Channel says it already has a deal to place its so-called ClearVision network on monitors in Raleigh-Durham starting next month.

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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.