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THE BRIEFING FOR SEPTEMBER 13-26, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli
· You're Not Getting Fat. Seats Are Getting Smaller.
· AAdvantage Gets Qatar Airways Later This Month
· Phase One of New Bradley Terminal Opens at LAX
· Gogo Rolls Out Faster In-Flight WiFi--Next Year
· United Adds Routes From Chicago/O'Hare Hub
· Another Burst of New Hotels Around the World
· Worst. Summer. Flying. Season. Ever.
You're Not Getting Fat. The Seats Are Getting Smaller.
When I warned you last year that there was a new crunch in coach, I hope you started taking care of your hips and kneecaps. And guess what? It is getting worse, much much worse. United Airlines revealed this week that it is reconfiguring the CRJ-700s flown by its United Express commuter partners. The old configuration of 66 seats--six in first, 32 in Economy Plus and 28 in coach--is being rejiggered to squeeze in more chairs. The plane will now carry 70 seats. First class won't change, but the number of Economy Plus seats will be cut in half and coach will expand to 48 seats. And north of the border, Air Canada has taken delivery of its first newly configured Boeing 777-300ERs. Those planes carry 458 passengers--or nearly a third more than the carrier's older 777-300ERs. New planes have a smaller business class (36 instead of 42 seatbeds), 24 seats in Premium Economy (configured in an unfriendly 2-4-2 pattern) and a staggering 398 coach chairs. Compared to Air Canada's old 777-300ERs, new coach seats are narrower (17 inches instead of 18.5 inches) and seat pitch has been reduced to 31 inches from the previous 32. Worst of all, coach in the new aircraft is configured 3x4x3 compared to the former 3x3x3 layout.
AAdvantage Gets Qatar Airways Later This Month
You already know that Qatar Airways, one of the fast-growing Gulf carriers, is joining the Oneworld Alliance. But you may not know that Qatar, after a very rapid integration, will become part of the alliance on October 30. Even better for American AAdvantage players, you will be able to earn miles on and claim rewards for Qatar seats starting on September 23. ... Another Middle Eastern carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines, can now be booked online via AA.com. Until now, you had to call the AAdvantage service center to book awards. ... The Crossover Rewards partnership between Delta Air Lines and Starwood Hotels just received some additional heft. Platinum Starwood Preferred Guest members now receive day-of-departure upgrades on Delta. You can upgrade to first on flights within the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. Travel to Hawaii and on international flights with Delta's BusinessElite cabin does not qualify. ... If you are a Capital One No Hassle Rewards player, you've just lost a perk. Effective November 7, travel and entertainment charges no longer earn two miles per dollar. All charges will now earn just one mile per dollar.
Worst. Summer. Flying. Season. Ever.
You rarely go wrong paraphrasing Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, so it's apropos to say we're living through what could be called one of the worst summer flying seasons ever. After a terrific start to the year--airlines were routinely managing on-time performance near 85 percent and occasionally hitting the 90-percent mark--things started to tank in June. As you recall, the Transportation Department said this past June ranked 194th of the last 222 months it tracked. Figures released by DOT this week for July reveal things were still bad: Only 73 percent of flights operated on-time, ranking it the 186th of the last 223 months. Life on the road didn't pick up much in August. According to statistics released this week by FlightStats, only 78 percent of North American flights ran on-time. Even late-summer flying has been nasty. Besides storms in the East and Mountain States, a series of computer glitches plagued travelers. On Wednesday (September 11), US Airways' mobile site and app generated erroneous boarding passes. On Thursday (September 12), United shut down ticket sales for several hours because computers were pricing seats for as little as $10. Meanwhile, lightning struck the control tower at Baltimore-Washington Airport and traffic was halted for four hours. And today (September 13), a computer-system failure caused delays at JetBlue Airways. Thank goodness the summer ends next week...
United Adds Routes From Its Chicago/O'Hare Hub
United Airlines has consistently cut capacity since the Continental Airlines merger, but it will soon add new routes from its Chicago/O'Hare hub. On January 7, its United Express commuter service will fly 50-seat regional jets to both State College, Pennsylvania, and Elmira, New York. On February 13, United Express will then add flights to Topeka, Kansas. And on May 22, United itself will begin seasonal flights from O'Hare to Edinburgh, Scotland. The service will operate until October 5 with Boeing 757s. ... United is also adding a new route between its San Francisco hub and Indianapolis and dropping flights between its Denver hub and Grand Forks, North Dakota. The SFO-Indianapolis run begins January 7 with Airbus A319 jets. The Denver-Grand Forks route, revived last October after a decades-long hiatus, ends on December 2. ... The first phase of an overdue revamp of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles opens on Wednesday, September 18. Several retail and restaurant concessions will be open, but none of the new club lounges will be ready. The first club, dedicated to the Star Alliance, won't open until September 23. ... Frontier Airlines has halted flights at Trenton-Mercer County due to terminal and runway construction at the New Jersey airport. Flights are scheduled to resume on November 9. ... Due to construction, JetBlue Airways flights at Las Vegas are temporarily departing and arriving at D gates. Check-in and baggage claim remain at Terminal 3, however.
Another Amazing Burst of New Hotels Opens Around the World
There seems to be no end of hotel openings and reflaggings around the world, fueled partially (okay, entirely) by an upswing in nightly rates. In most markets, in fact, nightly room rates have finally reached the levels they reached before financial markets melted down five years ago. ... Here's what's new from Marriott: a 129-room Courtyard in Glassboro, New Jersey, and a 110-room Renaissance Hotel in Izmir, Turkey. And the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has joined the Autograph Collection. ... New from Hilton, there's a 148-room Hampton in Voronezh, Russia, and a 100-room DoubleTree in Kamloops, British Columbia. As usual for DoubleTree, the property is a conversion; it formerly traded as the Coast Canadian Inn. ... Starwood has opened a 340-room Sheraton in Shenyang, China. It has also opened a 306-room Sheraton in one tower of what used to be the Blake Hotel. The other tower will reopen next year as a Le Meridien, another Starwood brand. The two hotels will share a fitness center, spa, pools, parking and meeting space. ... A 120-room Radisson has opened close to Calgary Airport at 6620 36th Street NE.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The New York judge in the American Airlines bankruptcy case approved the airline's reorganization plan, but that exit strategy is dependent on the merger with US Airways passing muster. However, the judge scuttled a $20 million severance payout to American boss Tom Horton, who'll lose his gig if the US Airways merger closes. ... Gogo, the in-flight WiFi provider, says it will roll out faster Internet access using a new hybrid product that fuses its current ground-to-air network with satellite service. But don't hold you breath (or your E-mails) waiting for the higher-speed access. It's not due until the second half of next year. ... India travelers take note: The exclusive provider of visa services in the United States is now a company called BLS International. Without much public notice, BLS replaced the incumbent expediter, Travisa, on July 1. ... Major carriers on transborder routes between the United States and Canada raised fares by $10 roundtrip this week, according to FareCompare.com.
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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.