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THE BRIEFING FOR EARLY MARCH, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli
· Fly the Unfriendly Skies of Sequestration Nation
· Amex Jumps Into the Airport Lounge Business
· Marriott Opens a Really Tall Luxury Hotel in Dubai
· JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK Gets a Club Lounge
· TSA Will Roll Out PreCheck to Five More Airports
· The Dollar Is Firming Up Against World Currencies
· Already 'Plane Rich'? Buy a Commuter Airline
Fly the Unfriendly Skies of Sequestration Nation
The federal budget sequester automatically kicks in tomorrow (March 1) and the Obama Administration wants us all to be terrified. It claims that an $85 billion cut (or about 2.5 percent of the $3.6 trillion 2013 budget) will devastate essential federal services. To make the point specifically to business travelers, they produced outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week to outline a draconian series of cutbacks that he claimed would lead to closed towers at small airports, shuttered runways at major airports and air-traffic control reductions across the system. LaHood and others claim sequestration will lead to hours-long flight delays, a cascade of cancellations and four-hour delays to clear customs. Is any of it true? Uh, probably not. Most of the threatened cuts won't actually kick in until around April 1 and many of the control-tower closures are long overdue, mostly affecting flyspeck airports that have little or no traffic. What if the Administration and Republicans in Congress can't come up with alternate cuts to replace the sequester? My guess is that the Obama Administration would allow a worst-case travel scenario to occur for a day or two in April and then announce that it has miraculously found alternate ways to restore "essential" government services related to air travel. My advice: Ignore it all for now. It's Washington being Washington and, if you haven't noticed, the sky is always falling in Washington.
American Express Jumps Into the Airport Lounge Business
Without advance notice to its cardholders, American Express on Tuesday (February 26) opened a lavish private club at Las Vegas/McCarran Airport. The prototype of a series of pay-per-visit clubs that Amex hopes to open at many U.S. airports, the Centurion Lounge offers a shower suite; conference room; workspace with PCs, printers and Internet access; bar; family room; and 6 a.m.-to-10 p.m. buffet fronted by famed restaurateur Scott Conant. Unlike the more traditional Centurion clubs that Amex operates in half a dozen international airports, the Las Vegas Centurion Lounge is not free unless you hold the black Centurion Amex card. All other Amex cardholders pay $50 a visit. (But check your mail for a comp, which Amex says it is sending to "targeted" cardholders.) An Amex spokesperson says that it has already signed a lease for a Centurion Lounge at Dallas/Fort Worth. The Las Vegas lounge is located in Concourse D next to Gate D4 and Amex has already thrown up an impressive Web site for the concept here. ... Any other week, this would be the big-deal airport lounge story: JetBlue's Terminal 5 at New York/Kennedy will finally be getting a club lounge. It will be operated by Airspace, the third-party management firm that opened its first location at Baltimore-Washington in 2011. The Airspace Lounge is due to open in May and will be located near Gate 24. Hawaiian Airlines already uses a nearby gate for its nonstops to Honolulu and Aer Lingus is moving its flights to Ireland into Terminal 5 beginning on April 3. ... Airspace says it is also opening a pay-per-visit lounge at Cleveland. This one will be located airside in newly created space adjacent to the Concourse A and B gates. It's due to open in March. You can get complete details on the offerings at Airspace lounges here.
Marriott Opens a Really Tall Hotel in Dubai
You are forgiven if you didn't know there was a title "world's tallest hotel," but Marriott apparently wanted it. The twin-towered JW Marriott Marquis Dubai officially opened on Tuesday (February 26) in a complex that is 1,164 feet tall, just 85 feet shorter than the Empire State Building. The 72-story property on Sheikh Zayed Road has 684 rooms and a bazillion food and beverage outlets. (Bazillion is an estimate, by the way.) ... Much closer to earth, Westin has opened a 215-room property in the Velachery district of Chennai, India. ... A 269-room Park Hyatt has opened in Busan, Korea. It's located in the Haeundae marine city. ... And while it can't compete in size or exotic locale, the new Hilton Garden Inn in Preston, Connecticut, does have its own claim to fame: It's now officially the closest hotel to the Foxwood Casino that is not actually on the grounds. It's a quarter-mile away on Route 2.
The TSA Will Roll Out PreCheck to Five More Airports in March
Sequestration politics notwithstanding, of course, the Transportation Security Administration says that five more airports will get the PreCheck security-bypass program within the next 30 days. By April 1, the service should be up and running at Austin, Cleveland, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. In Austin, the PreCheck lane will be located at Checkpoint 2. In Cleveland, it will be at the South Checkpoint. In Memphis, it'll be at the Terminal B checkpoint. It'll be at the main checkpoint in Nashville. That will make 40 airports covered by PreCheck, which allows you to keep shoes and jackets on and leave your laptop and toiletries kit in your carry-on bag. For more complete details, surf to the TSA PreCheck site.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Frontier Airlines flyers take note: The Denver-based carrier and Expedia are squabbling, so the online travel agency has pulled Frontier's fares and flights from the site. ... Delta Air Lines says it now offers one-tray "express meal" options in business class on late-departing international flights and on all service between New York and London. The airline says it'll soon add the option on transcontinental runs, too. ... Say goodbye to the International Herald-Tribune. The owner, The New York Times, says that the 125-year-old paper will be rebranded this fall as the International New York Times. ... The U.S. dollar is rebounding against major world currencies. It's up to 92.5 Japanese yen and 1.03 Canadian dollars. It's gaining against the euro and British pound, too. A euro is down to $1.31 and a British pound is down to $1.51.
After 'Plane Rich,' You Must Own an Island and an Airline
What happens if you're so wealthy that you long ago passed what hipsters call being "plane rich"? If you're Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, third-richest American, licensed pilot and owner of Gulfstream jets, a Soviet-era MiG-29 and an old Italian Air Force plane, you buy an island. Ellison did that last year when he purchased 98 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai and its two Four Seasons resorts. But even that isn't enough for Ellison, whose worth is estimated at $40 billion. This week, he bought Island Air. The Hawaiian regional carrier serves Lanai and the other Hawaiian Islands with 225 weekly flights and a fleet of 37-seat Dash-8 turboprops. The purchase price was not disclosed, but, you know, what does it matter?
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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 © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.