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THE BRIEFING FOR AUG. 22-SEPT. 5, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· United Shuffles Its International Fleet Again
· DoubleTree Converts Some More Crappy Hotels
· Delta Adds and Subtracts at Its Sea-Tac Mini-Hub
· First Merger Fight: When Antitrust Trial Starts
· Cathay Pacific Launches Newark-Hong Kong Run
· Air Canada Adds International Upgrade Co-Pay
· WestJet's New Fare Bucket Includes More Perks


United Shuffles Its International Fleet Again
The chaos on United's international routes continues. Back in April, United abruptly moved almost all of its Boeing 747s to its San Francisco hub. Now the dinosaurs--they don't even have at-seat video monitors in coach--are being moved around the system once again. Beginning in April, Boeing 747s are being moved back to Chicago to serve the ORD-Shanghai, ORD-Tokyo/Narita and ORD-Frankfurt runs. The aged 747s will also be moved to two different routes out of San Francisco: SFO-Honolulu and SFO-Narita. United will then shift some Boeing 777s to the following routes: Los Angeles-Sydney, San Francisco-Sydney and San Francisco-London. While the newer 777 aircraft are generally good news for flyers, they represent a serious capacity reduction, by as much as 100 seats a flight. Premium classes are smaller, too, meaning fewer seats available for upgrades on those long hauls. The reason for the latest swap out? Who knows. An internal memo indicates that the 747s were originally moved to SFO due to reliability problems. But the memo also quotes the airline's international planning honcho, Andrew Buchanan, saying that the latest moves "better align capacity ... to the amount of profitable demand." Buchanan then repeats a new mantra from chief executive Jeff Smisek: United is a business, not just an airline. In other words, now United is able to fail as both a business and an airline.

DoubleTree Converts Another Bunch of Crappy Hotels
DoubleTree by Hilton, which hasn't seen a down-at-the-heels hotel that it won't slap its name on, has converted another pack of properties. Latest recruits: a former Four Points by Sheraton in Leominster, Massachusetts, now the 288-room Doubletree Leominister and the former Thomas Edison Inn in Port Huron, Michigan, now the 149-room DoubleTree Port Huron. DoubleTree is also going to reflag the 184-room Dayton Grand Hotel, which was a DoubleTree from 2007 to 2009. ... A 124-room Holiday Inn Express opened in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It is located near the CIVAC Industrial Park. ... The Autograph Collection from Marriott has added The Lexington hotel in Manhattan. The 725-room property in midtown is undergoing a long-overdue renovation.

Delta Adds and Subtracts at Its Sea-Tac Mini-Hub
Delta Air Lines has been furiously adding routes and services to its mini-hub at Seattle-Tacoma. Among other recent moves, it announced Seattle-London/Heathrow flights, added a Los Angeles route, upgraded in-flight service on flights to its New York/Kennedy hub and began adding flights to Asia. But all isn't copacetic, especially on those Asia runs. Delta proudly announced this week that it would add nonstops next year from Sea-Tac to Hong Kong and Seoul. What it didn't say: Some of the existing Asia runs are being dropped or slashed. Gone will be flights to Osaka. Reduced will be flights to Shanghai (down to five weekly from daily) and Tokyo/Haneda, which will slide to four weekly from its current daily frequency. The Seoul flight launches June 2 using Boeing 767-300s. The Hong Kong flight begins June 16 using Airbus A330-200s.

The First Merger Fight: When to Start the Antitrust Trial
The Justice Department's lawsuit to stop the merger of US Airways and American Airlines drew the standard response from the carriers and its chattering-class lapdogs. They're all shocked--shocked!--that the Justice Department would act to protect consumers and are taken aback that the agency doesn't believe the merged airline would act in the best interest of flyers. The sides are so far apart that they can't even agree on when to start the antitrust trial. According to filings today (August 22) in a federal district court in Washington, the airlines are pressing for a trial that starts on November 12. The Justice Department wants to start the trial on February 10. What's the airlines' rush? The merger agreement expires on December 13 and that's when either carrier--hint! hint! American--can walk away. One thing the airlines and the Justice Department do agree on: Both requested the judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, convene a scheduling hearing for next week.

Cathay Pacific Will Add a Nonstop Between Newark and Hong Kong
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific is adding another gateway city in the United States and its choice might surprise some flyers. On March 1, the airline will launch daily service to Hong Kong from Newark. The airline already flies four times a day from New York/Kennedy, a hub for Oneworld Alliance partner American Airlines and a key destination for Oneworld's British Airways. So why Newark, where Oneworld has no feed and Cathay must go head-to-head with United Airlines, which already operates nonstops to Hong Kong? "In order to grow further in the area, we had to go across the [Hudson] river," says Tom Owen, Cathay's senior vice president for the Americas. Besides, he says, there is "a large market we weren't tapping in New Jersey and Philadelphia." That raises the obvious question: Why not fly from Philadelphia, where Oneworld may soon have lots of passengers if American and US Airways merge? "We couldn't assume a merger will go through," Owen explains. Another decision: Cathay won't offer first class on the Boeing 777-300ERs it'll use on the Newark run. Instead, it'll offer business class, premium economy and coach, roughly equivalent to United's configuration on its Newark-Hong Kong service.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Air Canada flyers take note: The airline's much-devalued Aeroplan takes another hit: Most elite members will now be required to kick in a co-pay for international upgrades. In addition to the credits required, travelers will now pay $500-$750. Only SuperElite Altitude members are exempt from the co-pays, which begin on March 1. ... Delta Air Lines is doling out new perks: Selected elite travelers at Los Angeles will get chauffeur-driven Porsche transfers from the gate to their flight and all of the airline's flight attendants will be given Lumia 820 Windows smartphones. ... A very bad week in the travel world: A drunken traveler caused the diversion of a Detroit-Shanghai flight to Anchorage. The woman was arrested, but the children flying with her were allowed to continue on the flight. Meanwhile, a former United Airlines flight attendant was arrested for making repeated bomb threats against the airline. The 16-year United veteran was training to be a flight attendant for American Airlines. ... WestJet has introduced a new fare level called Plus. It includes two checked bags, free changes, in-flight drinks and food and seating in the extra-legroom plus section of the plane. Complete details are here.

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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.