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THE BRIEFING FOR OCT. 25 - NOV. 8, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· A 'Frankenstorm' Threatens Travel Next Week
· SIA Ends Ultra-Long-Haul Nonstops to JFK, LAX
· How to Stop Worrying and Burn Your Miles Stash
· OpenSkies Goes Back to the Future in New York
· North Dakota's Oil Boom Brings Hampton Inns
· United Inherits the Ill Wind in the Third Quarter
· At Last! North Korea's Air Koryo Is Now Online


A 'Frankenstorm' Threatens Travel Patterns Next Week
Who's up for another wacky Halloween storm? Some of us are still recovering from last year's freak Halloween snowstorm, which dumped upwards of three feet of snow and snarled traffic for days in the Northeast. Now the weather geeks are saying that Hurricane Sandy, a Category 2 storm that is plowing through parts of the Caribbean, will head north early next week and slap the entire Eastern seaboard. It's rare that a late-season hurricane becomes the equivalent of a Nor'easter and turns left to make landfall, hence the Frankenstorm moniker. As of this evening (Thursday, October 25), the weather experts say the storm could affect travel from the Carolinas to New England. Besides the normal chaos--strong winds, heavy rain, flooding, long delays and cancellations that could cripple hubs from Washington to Boston--don't forget that many trees in the East are still heavy with leaves. That makes them more likely to fall in bad weather, taking out power lines and snarling road and rail traffic to airports. Bottom line? Pay careful attention to the weather Web sites and the Weather Channel. It could be an ugly, ugly, ugly travel week. And consider deferring travel to/from Eastern destinations next week.

SIA Bails on Ultra-Long-Haul Nonstops to New York and Los Angeles
Singapore Airlines is pulling the plug on its ground-breaking (uh, sky-bending) ultra-long-haul nonstops between Singapore and Los Angeles and Newark. Buried in this week's news of aircraft orders, SIA revealed that Airbus would buy back the carrier's five Airbus A340-500s, the aircraft used on the 18-hour flights. No other plane has the needed range, so the flights will end when the aircraft leave the Singapore fleet late next year. SIA claims the decision to scrap the A340-500s is part of a fleet-renewal plan. But that's clearly eyewash. While the eight-year-old planes are older than SIA's fleet average of about six years, the A340-500s are lightly used, quite young by industry standards and literally irreplaceable. The inevitable conclusion: The two routes aren't profitable given the high price of jet fuel. The A340-500s are gas-guzzlers because they burn so much fuel just to carry enough fuel to operate on such long (about 10,000-mile) runs. Thai Airways dropped its A340-500 nonstops from Los Angeles to Bangkok earlier this year. Singapore launched its routes in 2004 as a unique two-class operation. (I wrote about the flights here.) In 2008, SIA turned the planes into 100-seat, all-business-class operations.

Dr. Strangeroute or How to Stop Worrying and Burn Your Miles
We talked last week about why you should never bank frequent flyer miles and start burning your stash ahead of next year's switch to revenue-based programs. Now Gary Leff of the View From the Wing blog has done us a gigantic favor by ticking off the best uses of your miles in each frequency plan. It goes without saying that Leff is talking about bargains at the restricted, premium-class levels, but if he says there's availability, you can believe him because he runs an award-booking service, too. As I read Leff's piece--view it here and make sure to bookmark the link--I was amazed by the diversity of great options he highlights. There are astounding bargains via US Airways Dividend Miles (without having to fly US Airways) and he points out that United's MileagePlus offers great availability on its partners to Europe and Africa. He doesn't like Delta SkyMiles in general, but he loves its reasonably priced partner awards to both India and Australia. He also offers tips for the American, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines programs.

OpenSkies Goes Back to the Future at New York/Kennedy
When OpenSkies, British Airways' boutique carrier, launched back in 2008, it planned to serve half a dozen cities from New York/Kennedy where BA has a terminal and extensive support facilities. Then a merger with L'Avion meant that OpenSkies refocused its expansion on Paris/Orly. But the global financial collapse meant OpenSkies not only scrapped any expansion--it dropped short-lived JFK-Amsterdam and Washington/Dulles-Orly runs--it also fled Kennedy for Newark, where L'Avion flew. Now OpenSkies is planning to return to JFK next year. Effective March 31, it'll run a daily three-class Boeing 757 flight (coach, premium economy and business) between JFK and Orly. Whether OpenSkies thinks JFK will work or it's just holding precious JFK take-off and landing slots for its BA parent remains to be seen. ... National and Alamo, two car-rental subsidiaries of Enterprise, have cut a deal to open at airports in Uruguay. There will soon be National and Alamo locations in the capital of Montevideo and the Punta Del Este resort.

North Dakota's Oil Boom Brings a Boom in Hampton Inns
Until North Dakota developed the Bakken formation of oil and gas, the state was the textbook example of fly-over country. But airlines are adding flights now and the hotel industry is catching up, too. Three Hampton Inns have recently opened in the state: an 86-room hotel at Minot Airport, a 98-room branch in Williston and an 85-room outpost in Dickinson. Can a Fargo Four Seasons be far behind? ... The former Embassy Suites in Mexico City's Reforma district has been reflagged as the 160-room Le Meridien. ... The former Best Western Mostyn Hotel in London has been reflagged as the 121-room DoubleTree by Hilton Marble Arch. ... Speaking of Hilton, it has opened a 532-room property connected to the convention center in Columbus, Ohio, and a 103-room Hilton Garden Inn in Tucuman, Argentina.

United Inherits the Ill Wind in the Fiscal Third Quarter
The airline industry had a profitable third quarter and even bankrupt American Airlines racked up a profit north of $100 million excluding bankruptcy costs. But it was what the Associated Press politely called "a rough quarter" for United Airlines. Its passenger count fell 1.5 percent, per-passenger revenue declined 2.6 percent and yield dropped 1.2 percent. Even United's clueless management had to admit on a conference call with security analysts today (October 25) that flyers were penalizing the airline for its lousy service and crappy attitude since the botched computer switch on March 2. But United executives insisted that it now has a handle on the problems. (It made the same claim after second-quarter earnings disappointed, too.) Excluding special charges, United's $1.35 per-share earnings came in about 12 cents below analysts' estimates. In fairness to United, however, it missed estimates only because airline industry analysts are almost as clueless as United management. The analysts don't fly, so they have no idea what paying customers have rebelled against.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Aegean Airlines is making another attempt to buy Olympic, the oft-bailed-out flag carrier of Greece. If European regulators agree--they didn't approve a merger last year--Aegean will pay 72 million euros for the airline founded in 1957 by Aristotle Onassis. ... Air France insists that it will carry all passengers despite a strike tomorrow (October 26). ... If you have any doubt BlackBerry is done--see my column here--consider: U.S. Customs workers are being switched to iPhones. So much for BlackBerry being a "safer" choice due to better E-mail security. ... Kingfisher Airlines in India is still grounded. Don't hold your breath waiting for a quick return to the skies, either. Indian authorities have now suspended the airline's operating certificate. ... And here's an announcement you've been waiting for: North Korea's flag carrier, Air Koryo, now offers online booking. Grab seats on the airline's fleet of Russian-built Tupolevs at http://www.airkoryo.com.kp/en/home. With several JoeSentMe members in tow, Travel Insider David Rowell flew Air Koryo last 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.