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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 5-19, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· First Merger Move Takes Benefits From Flyers
· What Will Virgin America Do With New LGA Slots?
· Delta: We Don't Believe in Fair Play or Good Faith
· Two More Hotels Open in Crazy-Quilt New York
· Southwest Drops Three Cities Off Its Route Map
· Marriott Adds New Properties in Rome and Milan
· TSA Opens Its First PreCheck Enrollment Center


Surprise! First Merger Move Takes Benefits From Frequent Flyers
Media canonization of US Airways chief executive Doug Parker has begun and he officially takes over American Airlines when the two carriers legally merge on Monday, December 9. That'll happen at the same time American exits bankruptcy after a two-year stay. Parker is saying all the right things--and the fawning media laps it up, of course--but the reality suggests something else. American Admirals lounges and US Airways Clubs will exit the American Express Platinum lounge-access program on March 22. To paraphrase Jeff Smisek, who has been piloting United and Continental's woebegone merger, expect a lot more changes you'll hate as US Airways brass takes control of American. The next merger milestone: February 28, when US Air is expected to exit the Star Alliance. It will probably move to Oneworld in time for the launch of "summer schedules" in late March. Meanwhile, US Airways president Scott Kirby, who'll assume the same role at American, says the first passenger improvements of the merger will occur on January 7. That probably means reciprocal earn-and-burn rights in American AAdvantage and Dividend Miles and honoring elite status earned in either frequency plan.

What Will Virgin America Do With Its New LaGuardia Slots?
To get the Justice Department's approval for the merger, US Airways and American agreed to sell a clutch of slots at both Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia airports. Although the Washington slots haven't been reassigned yet, the Federal Aviation said today (December 5) that a total of 32 LaGuardia take-off and landing positions will go to Southwest Airlines and Virgin America. Southwest was already leasing 10 of those slots, so the deal means Southwest will be able to add six more roundtrips from LaGuardia soon. But the more intriguing question is what will Virgin America do with its 12 slots, good for a half-dozen roundtrips? Virtually everywhere logical Virgin could fly from LaGuardia is already another carrier's strong hub. One of the few exceptions: Austin, which has no nonstop service from LGA. (Virgin already flies to Austin from its San Francisco hub.) Some other options: Orlando, which has plenty of flights from LGA, but seems to absorb them; and Fort Lauderdale, a proto-hub for JetBlue, based across town at Kennedy Airport.

Delta Says Fair Play, Good Faith Have No Part in Frequency Plans
The case of a frequent flying rabbi penalized by Northwest Airlines in 2008 has reached the Supreme Court and oral arguments this week were riveting. As you recall, the rabbi had his Northwest WorldPerks miles confiscated and he was stripped of his platinum-elite status and tossed from the program. Although Northwest never claimed the rabbi, Benyomin Ginsburg, violated any terms of WorldPerks, the airline bounced him because the carrier's bosses said he complained too much about service. Ginsburg sued in Minnesota courts and wants to make it a class-action suit. Several of the Justices this week made it clear that they didn't know much about the working of frequent flyer programs. And Delta Air Lines, which merged with Northwest in 2010, made a standard defense: The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act bars anyone but the federal government from regulating airline behavior. (Ironically, one of the Justices, Stephen Breyer, wrote huge chunks of the law when he was an aide to Senator Ted Kennedy.) Most astonishing of all, however, Delta lawyer Paul Clement argued that nothing could stop airlines from running frequent flyer plans exactly as they wished. By bringing suit, Clement claimed that Ginsburg infringed on Northwest's rights by trying to "superimpose a duty of good faith and fair dealing." You can read more details, including a transcript of oral arguments, here. The Supreme Court isn't likely to rule on whether Ginsberg can sue until late next spring. ... Marriott Rewards members take note: Two more Italian hotels in the Boscolo chain have joined the Autograph Collection. The Boscolo Milano and the Boscolo Exedra near the Termini train terminal in Rome are now available to earn and burn points.

Two More Hotels Open in the Crazy-Quilt New York Market
This is what it is like when you need a room in New York these days: Last Sunday (December 1), the Hilton Fashion District would rent you a room for $83. Want to book the same room tomorrow (December 6)? Be prepared to pay more than $300. Into this crazy-quilt of rates came two more important chain properties this week. On West 45th Street, Hyatt opened the 487-room Hyatt Times Square even though the restaurant and many other public facilities are not yet operating. And Marriott has opened still another Courtyard, this time a 273-room branch on West 30th Street in Chelsea. ... Speaking of Hyatt, it also opened the 145-room Hyatt Place in Chesterfield, a St. Louis suburb. ... Speaking of Marriott, it also opened a 126-room Courtyard in the Bearden neighborhood in Knoxville; a 450-room JW Marriott in Hanoi; and a 320-room Ritz-Carlton on the island of Aruba. ... Hilton opened a 219-room Embassy Suites in Springfield, Virginia, and an 82-room DoubleTree on the waterfront of Lake Bemidji, Minnesota.

Southwest Airlines Drops Three Cities Off Its Route Map
Southwest Airlines is lopping three more cities off its route map. On June 7, it'll drop flights at Key West, Florida; Jackson, Mississippi; and Branson, Missouri. ... Twenty new shops have opened at Terminal F at Philadelphia International, which is dominated by US Airways Express. There's also a refurbished US Airways Club and a covered vestibule for passengers using shuttle buses to other terminals. Among new dining choices: an outlet of Smashburger; a branch of Tony Luke's cheesesteak chain; and a restaurant from celebrity chef Jose Garces. Unfortunately, the $127 million remake of Terminal F doesn't include a taxi stand and flyers will still have to clear security again if they connect to a flight in another terminal. ... Lufthansa has opened its own lounge in Terminal B at Newark. The 2,000-square-foot facility is open to premium-class Lufthansa and Swiss International flyers, elite members of the Lufthansa's frequent flyer program as well as elite Star Alliance members. Separately, El Al has also opened a new lounge in Newark's Terminal B.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Hawaiian Airlines now allows the use of personal-electronic devices during takeoff and landing. ... After an endless rollout, United Airlines completed reconfiguration of p.s. service between New York/Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All of the Boeing 757 aircraft now have 28 lie-flat business-class beds, 42 Economy Plus seats and 72 coach chairs. ... The TSA this week opened its first open-enrollment center for PreCheck at Indianapolis Airport. If you don't qualify for PreCheck via your airline's frequent flyer program or Global Entry or other customs-bypass programs, you can now apply for TSA clearance directly. The TSA says it will open other enrollment centers in New York and Washington before the end of the year and eventually wants to have 300 locations around the country. I'll have more on the state of PreCheck in next week's Seat 2B column.

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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.