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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 3-17, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· Do You Believe in Magic? We Just Flew It!
· Timing of Antitrust Trial Gets Hinky ... Again
· Delta Bulks Up at Seattle-Tacoma ... Again
· Frontier Sold to Man Who Hates Customers
· JetBlue Transcon Premium Prices: $599-$999
· Hyatt Converts Hotels in Orlando and Denver
· When Will FAA Ease In-Flight Electronics Rule?


Do You Believe in (Flying) Magic? We Just Lived It!
Tropical Storm Karen is chugging its ways toward the Gulf Coast and a cold front is bringing wintry weather to the middle of the country. In other words, this weekend will mark the end of what may have been the ten best flying days in the last few decades. According to figures compiled by the irreplaceable FlightStats.com, on-time operations surpassed 85 percent each day from Monday, September 23, through yesterday (October 2). Operations peaked on Tuesday, October 1, when the on-time rating nationwide passed 91 percent. Better yet, cancellations were notably low, ranging from about four-tenths of a percent (yesterday and Thursday, September 26) to seven-tenths of a percent (Monday, September 30, and Saturday, September 28). The magical 10-day respite from the summer's rocky operations will undoubtedly be followed by an unfelicitous fall and winter flying season. Hope you enjoyed it, fellow flyers. We'll probably tell our grandchildren about that time the system ran without disruption for days and days and days ...

The Timing of the Antitrust Trial Gets Hinky...Again
American Airlines and US Airways last week extended the merger agreement for a month, which initially seemed to obviate an opportunity for a resurgent and reluctant American to wiggle out of the deal. But the exigencies of court schedules have intervened again. Federal district Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly says that she's not likely to rule until January 10, just days before the extended merger agreement's expiration date of January 18. But court schedules have a way of getting extended and the government shutdown could have an impact, too. The Justice Department, which is suing to stop the merger, this week asked Kollar-Kotelly to delay the trial because government lawyers are technically non-essential, furloughed federal employees. The judge swatted down the request, but an extended government shutdown would eventually shut down the federal courts, too. ... The Attorney General of Texas, originally one of the co-plaintiffs in the Justice Department suit, withdrew this week after American and US Airways promised to serve 22 airports in the state for at least three years after any merger. Texas AG Greg Abbott is the presumptive Republican gubernatorial candidate next year and is in a surprisingly close race with presumptive Democratic candidate Wendy Davis. ... American Airlines, still operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, this week reported record August revenue and a monthly operating profit of $165 million.

Delta Bulks Up at Seattle-Tacoma Again
Delta Air Lines continues to grow its mini-hub at Seattle-Tacoma. After it added a raft of international service and upgraded its transcontinental flights, Delta is now bulking up on the West Coast. Effective March 29, there'll be six daily flights between Sea-Tac and San Francisco. The airline is also adding more service to both Los Angeles and Las Vegas runs. All of the newly announced flights will be served with two-class EMB-175 regional jets. ... A consolidated car-rental center has opened at Boston/Logan. Nine rental firms operate from the 120,000-square-foot facility. It's also the end of company-specific bus shuttles. Transportation to and from the rental center is now handled by a consolidated bus service, which will also shuttle flyers to the airport train station. ... Airport dining options continue to get more varied. The first airport branch of the IHOP pancake chain has opened at Atlanta/Hartsfield. It's located inside Hartsfield's main atrium just before security and will remain open 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, a Budweiser-themed bar and restaurant called EIGHTEEN|76 has opened near Gate E10 in Terminal 2 of St. Louis/Lambert. St. Louis is home to Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser. And a modified version of a popular California chain called Tender Greens has opened in the Commuter Terminal at San Diego.

Frontier Is Sold to Man Who Thinks Passengers Are Idiots
Commuter carrier Republic Air Holdings spent nearly $1.5 billion in 2009 to buy then-bankrupt Frontier Airlines and fading Midwest Airlines and mash them into an unrecognizable and money-losing mess. After months of trying, Republic this week dumped Denver-hubbed Frontier on William Franke, who nearly destroyed America West and was the money behind Spirit Airlines and several low-cost airlines overseas. Assuming he can strong-arm employees into surrendering their promise of equity--they were offered a piece of Frontier in 2011 in exchange for massive wage-and-benefits givebacks--Franke will pay just $145 million for the airline. Franke has pledged to complete Frontier's transition from a full-service carrier to a Spirit-like no-service/no-comfort/high-fee carrier. Although he's made buckets of cash running airlines this way, Franke's "finest" moment was the day he called back an America West scheduled flight that was already in the air so the aircraft could be used for a higher-profit charter run. ... JetBlue Airways showed off its new premium-class transcontinental seats in August and this week it gave the service a brand name and a price. The name, inexplicably, is Mint--hey, don't ask me what it means--but the prices are very easy to digest. Advance-purchase prices for the lie-flat seat-beds start at just $599 one-way and walk-up fares top out at $999 one-way. That's less than half the walk-up fare charged by United, American or Delta, but roughly equivalent to the rates the legacy carriers offer to their best corporate customers. The first Mint-equipped Airbus A321s go into service on the New York/Kennedy-Los Angeles route in June.

Hyatt Completes the Conversion of Two Iconic Properties
Hyatt has two new properties on its map and both are conversions of iconic hotels. Hyatt's flag was officially hoisted this week over the former Peabody adjacent to the Orlando Convention Center. The 1,641-room property is now the Hyatt Regency Orlando and hasn't changed much--except, of course, for the ejection of the Peabody ducks from the lobby. Across the country, the former Loews Giorgio in the Cherry Creek neighborhood of suburban Denver this week reopened as a 194-room Hyatt Place. It underwent an extensive renovation of guestrooms and public spaces. ... Le Club, the frequent guest plan of Sofitel and other brands operated by the gigantic French hotel group Accor, has finally upgraded perks for elite-levels members. Silver, gold and platinum elites now receive free Internet service. Top-level platinum elites also receive complimentary lounge access as well as early check-in and late checkout. Silver elites are offered late check-out and gold elites can choose between early check-in or late checkout. View the latest benefits chart here. ... Marriott has added two new Residence Inn outlets: a 112-room property in Champaign, Illinois, and a 152-room property in downtown Omaha.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The day before the federal government shut down on October 1, an advisory panel told the Federal Aviation Administration that it should allow personal electronic devices to remain on during take-off and landings. The 28-person panel said the below-10,000-foot ban on text messaging, Web surfing and E-mail should remain, however. The FAA was expected to act quickly on the report before the government closed. ... TAM will join the Oneworld Alliance on March 31. That will complete the transition of all Latam Airlines Group carriers into Oneworld. LAN, which merged with TAM last year to create Latam, has been in Oneworld since 2000. ... A French court fined Ryanair about 8 million euros this week for breaking local labor laws. I am not sure, but I think the fine is actually less than Ryanair charges if you check bags on a flight. Okay, I made that last part up ...

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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.