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THE BRIEFING FOR NOV. 21-DEC. 5, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· United Losing 300,000 Flyers a Month This Year
· JetBlue Joins PreCheck, But There Are Quirks
· Southwest Now Offering Gate-to-Gate Net Access
· Whose Flag Is Flying at That Hotel at the Airport?
· After Downgrade, Gold Passport Has Good News
· American Now Auctioning Upgrades Six Days Out
· Best Car-Rental Firm? J.D. Power Says National


United Losing 300,000 Passengers a Month, So It'll Make Flying Worse
I've never seen it, but there must be an airline executive's manual somewhere that recommends managers keep digging if they're already in a hole. How else to explain this week's developments at deep-in-the-hole United Airlines, which lags every financial and consumer-rating metric you wish to consult? Data released this week by the government's Bureau of Transportation Statistics reveals that United flew about 2.5 million fewer customers in the first eight months of 2013 compared to a similar period of 2012. The 300,000-a-month drain, equal to a 3.9 percent year-to-date decline, contrasts sharply with a 3.4 percent increase at Delta and 5-7 percent traffic jumps at US Airways, Alaska Air and JetBlue. In fact, except for AirTran Airways, which is shifting flight operations to its Southwest Airlines parent, United is the only top-10 carrier to lose customers in 2013. How is United management reacting to this passenger rebuke? By making United worse, of course. At an investment conference this week, United bosses said they'll try to ring $700 million annually in extra fees from flyers in the years ahead. United will also drop routes such as Seattle-Tokyo and downgrade to narrowbody jets on several major intra-Asia routes. The airline also promises to reduce costs by $2 billion annually, which is carrier code for as-yet undisclosed additional cutbacks in customer service.

JetBlue Joins PreCheck, Southwest Goes Gate-to-Gate With WiFi
A week after Southwest Airlines joined the TSA PreCheck program (see details here), JetBlue Airways has also signed up for the TSA's security-bypass plan. PreCheck is available at more than 20 JetBlue airports, but, at the moment, you must use a mobile boarding pass to have a shot at the special lanes. JetBlue says that it'll be the first quarter of next year before qualified travelers with paper boarding passes will be designated as PreCheck ready. For more details, see here. ... Southwest Airlines says passengers can now use personal electronics devices below 10,000 feet. But wait, there's more. Southwest has become the first airline to offer gate-to-gate WiFi because its system, supplied by a company called Row 44, is capable of providing coverage below 10,000 feet. Airlines using Gogo can't offer end-to-end WiFi because that firm's existing system isn't capable of operating at lower altitudes. For more details of Southwest's new policies, check here. Southwest charges a flat $8 per day per device for WiFi access. ... Virgin America said late today (November 21) that it, too, now permits personal electronic devices to be used below 10,000 feet.

Whose Flag Is Flying at That Hotel at the Airport?
The ever-changing lodging landscape at New York/Kennedy has morphed again. The 385-room DoubleTree by Hilton, which squabbled with Hilton corporate for months, is out of the chain. It converted to the Radisson flag this week. After opening to raves several years ago following a major renovation, the hotel's quality has slipped dramatically. Meanwhile, the 288-room Hilton Salt Lake City Airport has converted to the DoubleTree brand. The property is currently under renovations. ... A 129-room Courtyard by Marriott has opened in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. ... Two new Crowne Plaza conversions this week: a 212-room hotel in Lansing, Michigan, formerly an independent property; and a 293-room branch in Princeton, New Jersey. That one was formerly known as the Wyndham and the Forrestal. ... Speaking of InterContinental, there is also a new 198-room Holiday Inn Express in Semarang in Central Java; a 145-room Holiday Inn in Amritsar, India; and 97-room Candlewood Suites in Greenville, South Carolina.

A Week After Bad News, Hyatt Gold Passport Delivers Good Stuff
Hyatt Gold Passport players take note: A week after announcing a modest devaluation, Hyatt has unveiled several improvements. Elite members will be offered a special rate at all properties. Based on availability, it'll be 20 percent off the standard daily rate. Hyatt is also adding a points and cash award plan for members who wish to combine currencies. Rates range from $50 and 2,500 Gold Passport points a night for Category 1 rooms to 15,000 points and $300 a night for Category 7 rooms. Points-and-cash stays will count toward annual elite-status qualification and the cash portion of the rate will earn Gold Passport points. The final "upgrade" is a mixed bag, though. Points will expire after two years without activity in your account. That is better than the existing expiration period of one year, but Hyatt never enforced the rule. But now the chain says you will be required to have some activity within two years to keep your account active. All of the changes are effective on January 7.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines now auctions premium-class upgrades starting six days prior to departure. American claims the auction program will not affect the pool of complimentary AAdvantage elite-status upgrades, but watch this one carefully. It may only replace American's policy of selling upgrades at the gate when seats are empty, but a rush of revenue might lead the airline to start cutting into the pool of status upgrades. For complete details, check here. ... Speaking of American Airlines, labor-on-labor squabbling has already broken out just days after the Justice Department cleared the merger with US Airways. The flight attendants at each carrier are lobbing verbal grenades at each other concerning contract terms. ... J.D. Power says National is the nation's best car-rental company. The other brands that are part of Enterprise Holdings, Enterprise and Alamo, also rated near the top. At the bottom of the heap: Dollar and Thrifty, which are now owned by Hertz, which finished in the middle of the pile along with Avis and Budget.

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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.