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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 16 TO MAY 30, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· American's New Carry-On Bag Policy Is Ironic
· Manhattan and Midland, Texas, Get Same Hotel
· Isn't It Ironic? United Adds ORD-San Juan Route
· No Irony: JetBlue Builds Fast in Fort Lauderdale
· Qatar Airways Will Fly to Philadelphia Next Year
· United Resumes (Domestic) Dreamliner Flights
· Virgin America Keeps Losing Money, Plans IPO


American's New Carry-On Bag Policy Is, Uh, Ironic
Quite apart from the mechanics of American Airlines' announcement today (May 16) that travelers without carry-on bags can jump the boarding queue is the dizzying irony of it all. Airlines have long been obsessed with carry-on bags and spent years speciously claiming that carry-ons caused flight delays. AA can't claim that now, of course, because all of the airlines are performing quite well in the on-time ratings. The current ironies? For starters, it was American that caused any increase in carry-on bags by becoming the first major airline to charge for checked bags. Besides, American is running a much better on-time operation now than in 2008 when it began the checked-bag fee. More irony? If you decide you want to jump the boarding queue, American says it will gate check your carry-on for free. Some other carriers, of course, now charge for carry-on bags--and all of the majors charge for checked bags. The new policy, which American tested this year at a half-dozen airports, allows bagless flyers to board before travelers who have Group 2 boarding passes. One more irony? American claims the new policy will save the carrier about two minutes a flight because fewer travelers will fight for the last bits of carry-on space. But time-motion studies tend to show that gate-checking bags often slows the overall boarding process and may lead to more mishandled checked bags.

How Ironic: Midland, Texas, and Midtown Manhattan Get Same Hotel
So what do Midland, a West Texas town of 111,000 people, and Midtown Manhattan have in common? Marriott this week opened branches of its SpringHill Suites extended-stay brand in both places. Of course, the 171-room midtown Manhattan branch, located just off Fifth Avenue a few blocks south of 42nd Street, has it all over the 107-room Midland hotel. That SpringHill is five miles from downtown Midland. ... Speaking of Marriott, it opened branches of its Fairfield Inn chain in Duluth, Georgia, and Milwaukee. It also opened a 56-room TownePlace Suites in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and added the St. Ermin's Hotel in London to its Autograph Collection of independents. ... DoubleTree by Hilton, which may want to reflag any extra bedrooms you have, has opened a few more converted hotels. In Bristol, Connecticut, known for being the headquarters of ESPN, DoubleTree is now the flag above the 141-room hotel that was once a Clarion. And in London (the old one in England, not the new one in Connecticut), two old Ramada hotels now fly the DoubleTree flag. The 228-room DoubleTree Hyde Park is on the Bayswater Road near the northwest boundary of the park. The other is an 189-room property in the borough of Ealing.

Isn't It Ironic? United Is Launching a Chicago-San Juan Flight
United Airlines wants you to understand that "San Juan has been one of [its] most popular Caribbean destinations for more than two decades." So isn't it ironic that United didn't announce a flight to San Juan from its hub in Chicago/O'Hare until nearly two months after JetBlue Airways announced Chicago-San Juan service? United's new route launches November 5, two weeks before the launch of the JetBlue flight. ... Qatar Airways says that it'll launch flights to its Doha hub from Philadelphia next April. That makes sense because Qatar is joining the Oneworld Alliance and US Airways' large Philadelphia hub will be part of the Oneworld network when US Air merges with American Airlines. Of course, you probably should take Qatar's announcements with a few grains of Arabian sea salt. The airline announced late last year that it would launch nonstops this summer between New York/Kennedy and Athens. No one has heard much about that route since. ... Honolulu isn't a beacon of good airport dining, but a new sushi restaurant has opened in the main terminal. Umaizushi is run by HMS Host, the travel-dining giant. ... InterContinental Hotels has converted two existing near-airport properties. The 134-room former Ramada at 110 James Street in St. Rose near New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International and the 66-room former Country Inns in Carmel near Indianapolis International both now fly the Holiday Inn Express flag.

No Irony Here: JetBlue Building Fast in Fort Lauderdale
JetBlue Airways has announced its latest route: a nonstop between Fort Lauderdale and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Airbus A320 flights begin December 5, making Port-au-Prince JetBlue's 82nd destination. But it's the other end of the new route that's of the most interest. JetBlue's capacity at Fort Lauderdale grew by more than 11 percent last year and it now runs neck-and-neck with heinous Spirit Airlines for top spot at FLL. JetBlue operates about 50 flights a day now and airline executives say they expect to double FLL capacity in the next few years. Why Fort Lauderdale instead of the much larger Miami just 27 miles away? "When you look at the cost structure of Fort Lauderdale and that of Miami's, there's no comparison," chief executive Dave Barger recently told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Fort Lauderdale is nicely profitable for us." Adds chief commercial officer Robin Hayes: "Given our growth plans, [Fort Lauderdale will] be our third-largest focus city, behind New York and Boston, within a few years."

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines says it will resume Dreamliner flights on May 20. Boeing 787s will fly between Houston/Intercontinental and other United domestic hubs until June 10. That is when United will launch its delayed Denver-Tokyo/Narita route with Dreamliners. ... A Saudi man was arrested at Detroit/Metro last Saturday (May 11) when he arrived from Amsterdam with a pressure cooker in his luggage. There were also pages missing from his passport. His lawyer said the 33-year-old man didn't know that pressure cookers were used by the Boston Marathon bomber and claimed that Saudis often travel with pressure cookers. The man, Hussain al Khawahir, initially said he didn't know pressure cookers were sold in America, then said he was bringing it as a replacement because his Toledo-based nephew's pressure cooker had broken. Of course, pressure cookers are not verboten in luggage, so al Khawahir is charged with making false statements and traveling with an altered passport.

Final Irony: Virgin America Keeps Losing Money, Plans to Go Public
You have to wonder if the folks running Virgin America are whistling past the graveyard or are simply delusional. The airline, which has never made an annual profit since its 2007 launch, reported this week that its 2012 loss jumped 45 percent to $145 million. It also lost $46 million in the first quarter of this year. Virgin America's take on all of this? It hopes to go public late next year or early 2015. "People are going to want to see some profit" before they could price the IPO, says Virgin America chief executive Dave Cush.

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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.