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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 11 - 25, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· Great Year, But Sorry About United and American
· Delta Will Tell You About SkyMiles. Unless It Won't.
· Where's Renaissance Hotels Going? Barcelona
· Avianca Is the New Name for Many Latin Carriers
· Paris/CDG Tries to Rationalize Terminal 2. Again.
· United Tries (and Fails) to Raise Fares. Again.
· Amtrak Ridership is Up 50 Percent Since 2000


A Great Year So Far. Sorry About United and American...
It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been a great year so far for airline on-time performance. According to figures released today (October 11) by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the cumulative 82.06 percent on-time rating for U.S. carriers from January to August was the best in 18 years. The 1.15 percent cancellation rate was also the lowest in 18 years. That's impressive considering how poorly United Airlines has run since its botched computer conversion on March 2. According to the numbers, the best-performing hub during the first eight months of 2012 was Delta's Salt Lake City nexus. It registered an 89 percent on-time rating for arrivals and 90 percent on-time rating for departures. The worst? United's Newark hub. On-time ratings there were 69 percent (arrivals) and 71 percent (departures). United's performance improved in September, but flyers are now hammering the airline for its earlier incompetence and arrogance. United has run dead last in both traffic and revenue growth all year, but September was a disaster. The airline said this week that traffic fell 2 percent and passenger revenue plummeted as much as 3.5 percent. That's astounding when you realize that American Airlines' on-time and cancellation problems began in mid-September and its domestic traffic fell by 7 percent during the month. Speaking of American, its on-time performance remains dreary. During the first 10 days of October, FlightStats.com numbers show that American averaged around 65 percent on-time--about 20 points below the leading carriers.

Delta Promises to Tell You About SkyMiles Changes--Unless It Won't
It's not easy being tied to Delta's SkyMiles program. Award levels are high. Availability is spotty. The online booking engine is inaccurate and inefficient. And the way Delta manages SkyMiles makes things worse. One example: Delta increased the mileage cost of some awards last month with no advance notice and then claimed it was a "pricing decision" subject to Transportation Department rules that bar pre-announcements of price changes. I talked to both DOT officials and other airlines' frequent flyer program executives and none of them supported that claim. But SkyMiles vice president Jeff Robertson is, affably but implausibly, sticking to Delta's story. "We have had discussions with [DOT} and some of these areas are far more gray than we thought," he told me this week. "Our legal department is very sensitive to price changes on awards and we didn't think it was worth the risk to pre-announce what were extremely modest adjustments." At the same time, though, Robertson insists Delta would "never make programmatic changes" without substantial advance notice. But wait, there's more. When Delta rolled out the three-tier SkyMiles award chart in 2008, Robertson personally trumpeted the return of any seat/any flight "last seat availability." In recent months, however, SkyMiles terms and conditions again say that the program has capacity controls. Robertson's response? "I am not aware of any T&C changes and, if there are any, there's no correlation between them and last seat availability. If anyone has been denied an award at the highest level on a flight where there is an available seat, it's a mistake."

Where's the Marriott Renaissance Brand Going? Barcelona
The Renaissance brand from Marriott is adding and subtracting Barcelona hotels so fast that it may actually be affecting Catalonia's shaky economy. Earlier this year, Marriott unfurled the Renaissance flag over the former Diplomatic Hotel. That 211-room property is near the Paseo de Gracia shopping district. Last week the newly built 357-room Renaissance Fira opened on the Plaza Europa. The hotel was originally planned for Marriott's Autograph Collection, but the Renaissance name was slapped on the building just as the property opened its doors. But Renaissance is losing its Barcelona airport hotel, generally known as El Prat among frequent travelers. That property leaves the Marriott system on October 31. ... Speaking of Marriott, it has opened an 80-room Residence Inn in Manama, Bahrain. ... Four Seasons has opened a 259-room property in its hometown of Toronto. The new hotel is located at the corner of Yorkville Avenue and Bay Street. ... Some imminent conversions to note: Omni gets the 564-room Westin in Providence, Rhode Island. That's the hotel attached to the Rhode Island Convention Center. ... DoubleTree by Hilton will take over the 539-room Union Station Marriott. That's the cavernous property on the site of the old St. Louis train station. ... Meanwhile, Hilton will soon slap its name on the 183-room Upper Eastside Hotel in the Woodstock district of Cape Town, South Africa.

Delta Expands Asia Service From Alaska Airlines' Sea-Tac Hub
Alaska Airlines isn't a partner in the SkyTeam Alliance, but it and SkyTeam founder Delta Air Lines have an extensive code-share arrangement into and out of Seattle-Tacoma, Alaska's hometown hub. Delta will need to lean on that code-share as it mounts an aggressive Asia expansion from Sea-Tac next year. Delta hopes to add daily service to both Shanghai and Tokyo/Haneda. Assuming government approval, Haneda flights begin on March 30 and the Shanghai flights launch on June 17. Delta will use Boeing 767-300ERs on the routes. Delta already flies from Sea-Tac to Tokyo/Narita and Beijing. To support the new service, Delta says it will add flights between Sea-Tac and its New York/Kennedy hub. ... Officials at Paris/Charles de Gaulle are trying to rationalize that sprawling mess of a hub. Terminal 2F is now dedicated to "Schengen area" Europe flights operated by Air France and SkyTeam. Terminal 2G is dedicated to commuter airlines. That leaves Terminal 2E for long-haul overseas flights. Got it? Lots of luck making it work as you weave your way through the endless hallways connecting poorly marked "satellites." ... A six-lane security screening checkpoint has opened at the northeast end of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Terminal 2, generally called the "Humphrey Terminal."

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
What do you do when disgusted passengers flee and revenue falls? If you're United Airlines (see Counter Intelligence above), you try to raise fares. On Tuesday (October 9) it initiated an across-the-board fare hike of as much as $10 roundtrip. It rolled back the price increase today (October 11) when not enough carriers matched. According to Rick Seaney at FareCompare.com, it's the fifth time this year that United tried to lead a fare increase. Four of the five attempts failed. ... A big branding change in Latin America: The Avianca name will be adopted by all of the Latin carriers owned by the AviancaTaca group created by the 2009 merger of Avianca of Colombia and TACA of El Salvador. That means AviancaTaca subsidiaries such as LASCA (Costa Rica), Aerogal (Ecuador), Aviateca (Guatemala) and Taca Peru will add the Avianca name. The choice of the Avianca name is no surprise since the Colombian airline is the oldest continuously operating carrier in the Americas. It was founded as SCADTA in 1919. ... Amtrak carried 31.2 million passengers in the fiscal year ended in September, the railroad said this week. That's the highest number since Amtrak began service in 1971. Ridership grew 3.5 percent last year and is up 50 percent since 2000.

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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.