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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 8 TO 22, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli
· Just 5.9 Percent of Flyers Use Gogo In-Flight WiFi
· JetBlue, Now a Corporate Teenager, Is Changing
· (Hotel) Life in Downtown Syracuse, Baton Rouge
· Airport Food and Drink Options Get Much Better
· National's New App Allows Advance Car Selection
· San Juan's Condado Beach Hotel Switches Flags
· (Blue) Smoke and Menus on Delta's JFK-LHR Run
You Might Want to Google Why Gogo Is Failing at In-Flight WiFi
Airlines that don't have it now rush to install it. Airlines that already have it promise to make it available on even more flights. Some business flyers can't do without it. "It," of course, is in-flight WiFi. The problem? No one's making money providing it. Case in point: Gogo, the largest and best-known merchant. Since it launched in 2008, Gogo has equipped nearly 2,000 aircraft operated by nine U.S. and Canadian carriers. Yet five years in, Gogo only has a 5.9 percent "take rate," nerd slang for the percentage of travelers who use WiFi when it's available on a flight. That is even lower than the early days, when Gogo claimed its take rate was north of 7 percent. Worse, the now-public Gogo continues to hemorrhage cash. Although it boasted of a 37 percent rise in revenue when it reported second-quarter earnings yesterday (August 7), it was quieter about its operating expenses, which jumped by 30 percent, and its quarterly loss, which nearly doubled. Wall Street isn't thrilled, either. Gogo went public in late June at $17 a share. It closed today (August 8) at $11.98, down 30 percent. "In-flight WiFi looks a lot like in-flight phones a generation ago," a skeptical airline executive told me this week. "Business travelers loved that, too, but not enough wanted to pay enough to make it a rational financial proposition."
You Have to Admit Airport Food and Drink Is Getting Better
Life on the road continues to be an ugly swamp of high fares, rising fees, mediocre service and quickly increasing lodging and car-rental rates. But there is one unambiguous bright spot: airport food and beverage options. This week's notable improvements: A branch of the much-admired Vino Volo wine bar and restaurant has opened at Cleveland/Hopkins. There are now 28 Vino Volo outlets at 19 airports. The chain seems to be focusing on Ohio airports at the moment. Vino Volo opened in May in Cincinnati and a branch is due later this year at Port Columbus. ... Speaking of airport F&B, three more restaurants have opened in the newly expanded Terminal 2 at San Diego International. Tommy V's Pizzeria, fronted by famed local chef Tomaso Maggiore, is the best-known. Two others, Bubbles (a seafood and wine bar) and Seaside Stack Shack (a casual American restaurant), are concepts created by HMSHost, the big airport-retail operator. ... Clear, the security-line bypass program, has opened in Terminal B of San Antonio International. ... A massive fire Wednesday (August 7) destroyed the international terminal of Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International, the largest hub in East Africa. Some international flights have resumed, using a combination of the domestic terminal and makeshift tents.
National's New App Will Allow Advance Car Selection
National Car Rental is very late to the app game, but its first one has an interesting twist: Members of the company's Emerald Aisle program will soon be able to use it to choose their exact rental vehicle before arriving at the airport. The so-called Virtual Aisle portion of the app begins testing in Tulsa, Richmond and Omaha next month. The app is available now for Android and iPhone systems. ... Speaking of late to the game, US Airways has finally released its first app. It's also available for Android and iPhone. ... American Airlines and Award Wallet, a leading frequent travel program tracker, have settled their nearly two-year-long spat. American AAdvantage members can once again use Award Wallet to track their program.
JetBlue, Now a Corporate Teenager, Is Changing Fast
If you were stunned by this week's announcement that JetBlue Airways would add two types of business-class seats to its transcontinental flights, you haven't been paying attention to the carrier's evolution over the years. Launched in 2000 as a one-seat-fits-all, quasi-egalitarian airline, JetBlue has spent the last few years courting business flyers with perks that observers claimed would destroy its culture and operations. It has added premium-economy seating (Even More Space); created a frequent flyer program (TrueBlue) and later an elite level (Mosaic); introduced a credit card with American Express; launched flights to international destinations; cut-code-share deals with overseas carriers; and, last month, allowed a club lounge to open at its New York/Kennedy hub. "We're 14 years old," explains chief executive officer Dave Barger, who displaced founder David Neeleman after he was fired in 2007. "Our competitors are 60, 70, 80 years old. We're maturing and listening to our customers when they tell us what they want. I know our culture, doing things irreverently and offering comfort and value to customers, is stronger than ever."
There's (Hotel) Life in Downtown Syracuse and Baton Rouge
The first new hotels in downtown Syracuse in more than 50 years opened last week. The project is a dual-branded Marriott operation that offers 78 rooms as the Residence Inn and 103 rooms as the Courtyard. The hotels anchor the Connective Corridor that links Syracuse University with downtown's historic Armory Square district. ... Speaking of a new life for sagging downtowns, a 137-room Hampton Inn opened last week near State Capitol Park in Baton Rouge. It is the first hotel in the historic downtown district since before World War II. ... San Juan's much-reflagged Condado Plaza, designed by renowned architect Morris Lapidus, is changing names again. Known since 2009 as the Conrad Condado Plaza, the 571-room hotel is now called the Condado Plaza Hilton. This is the second time it has flown the Hilton flag. It was once known as the San Geronimo Hilton. ... The King George Hotel in Athens has joined the Starwood Luxury Collection. The property has 59 rooms and 49 suites, all of which offer views of the city and the Acropolis. ... Also new this week: a 248-room Home2 Suites by Hilton on Arch Street in Philadelphia and a 145-room Fairfield Suites in Tustin, California.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Grand Rapids flyers take note: Southwest Airlines takes over the flying from its AirTran Airways subsidiary on Saturday (August 10). ... Kimpton Hotels guests take note: Room-night awards won in the Kimpton InTouch program are now valid for one year instead of two. Award coupons awarded before July 1 will continue to be valid for two years, however. ... Virgin America celebrates its sixth birthday today (August 8) and yesterday reported a tiny (and very rare) quarterly profit. The profit of $8.8 million came on an 8 percent increase in revenue. ... Delta Air Lines says it is partnering with New York restaurateur Danny Meyer to design business class express-dining options on flights from New York/JFK to London/Heathrow. The menus will be created by the chefs at Meyer's Blue Smoke barbecue restaurants.
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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.