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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 19-31, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· Labor Peace at the Merged American? Hah!
· TSA Opens PreCheck Centers in Three Cities
· Israel Gets a Ritz-Carlton Hotel Near Tel Aviv
· US Air Extends Elite Status Through March
· Virgin Atlantic Charging for Seat Assignments
· SPG Members Get Perks at Caesars Casinos
· And to All a Good Flight ...


Labor Peace at the Merged American? You Know Better Than That
Besides the lies we're always spoon-fed by airlines and a compliant media before every merger--think buzz words like "synergies" and "cost savings"--the US Airways and American Airlines combination has a unique fib: That the mash-up would go smoothly because the carriers' labor unions were on board. As I've repeatedly warned, that is nowhere close to the truth. Now one of the media's biggest boosters of the merger--The Street.com's Ted Reed--has finally chronicled the reality. It is true that US Airways chief executive Doug Parker bought peace with American's unhappy unions, thus allowing him to do the deal and emerge as head honcho of the new American. But he's never cleaned up the labor mess created when he reverse-merged America West into US Airways back in 2005. As Reed explains, most US Airways employees are still working under separate, concessionary contracts. To make matters worse, US Airways pilots are locked in their own internecine struggle as former America West and former US Air fliers flight for supremacy. And now American and US Airways' respective flight attendant unions are sniping at each other. As we watch what unfolds on the labor front next year, heed the words of that eminent labor observer Margo Chandler: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

TSA Opens PreCheck Centers in Three Cities
Just weeks after opening the first PreCheck enrollment center at Indianapolis Airport, the TSA has opened nearly a dozen off-airport locations in the New York Metropolitan area, around the District of Columbia and near Los Angeles. Travelers who are willing to pay an $85 fee, submit a background check and be fingerprinted will be considered for PreCheck access regardless of their status with an airline. Information on enrollment, which can start on the Web, is here. The current list of enrollment centers is here. ... Speaking of PreCheck, active members of the military and reserves are now permitted to use PreCheck lanes. ... Meanwhile, four more airports--Long Island/Islip; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Huntsville, Alabama--now have PreCheck lanes.

Israel Gets a Ritz-Carlton Near Tel Aviv
Israel isn't exactly overflowing with high-quality hotels attached to major international chains. The country's best properties tend to be independent boutiques. Branded hotels such as the Hilton Tel Aviv and InterContinental David Tel Aviv aren't up to the chains' international standards. But that is changing. The round-façaded Palace in Jerusalem is being renovated into a Waldorf-Astoria and this week a Ritz-Carlton opened in Herzliya, a seafront resort near Tel Aviv. The hotel has 115 rooms, 82 suites and a kosher dining room fronted by Israeli celebrity chef Yonatan Roshfeld, best known for his Tapas1 and Herbert Samuel restaurants. ... The Tokyo Marriott, the third Marriott in the Japanese capital, opened this week. The 243-room property is in the Shinagawa ward. ... Also new from Marriott this week, a 98-room Courtyard in Stafford, Virginia, near the Quantico Marine Corps facility. ... New from Hilton this week: a 125-room Home2 Suites in South Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City, and a 308-room DoubleTree in the Xiasha economic district of Hangzhou, China. Here at home, however, the Hilton Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is out of the chain. It now trades as an independent property called the Pier 2620.

US Airways Extends 2013 Elite Status Through March, 2014
Elite members of US Airways Dividend Miles get an extra month of status in 2014 as US Airways makes its transition to the Oneworld Alliance from the Star Alliance. As with most airline and hotel programs, status privileges expire at the end of February. But since US Airways makes the alliance shift in March, it extended 2013 status through March 30. ... American Express Centurion cardholders, who have gotten complimentary Dividend Miles platinum status for the last six years, are getting a one-year reprieve. Although US Air and Amex are severing their lounge agreement in March, Centurion cardholders will be able to maintain their platinum elite status through February, 2015. If you're a cardholder, call Amex and make sure that you are covered. ... Starwood Preferred Guest members get some perks and earn-and-burn privileges at Caesars hotels and casinos thanks to a new link between SPG and the Ceasars Total Rewards program. Details are here. ... United Mileage Plus last week stopped allowing members to see award availability online for Star Alliance partner Singapore Airlines. United claimed it was a joint decision by the two carriers. Will it surprise you to learn that's a lie? Singapore Airlines this week denied it has any say in how any Star Alliance partner displays award seats. ... Hyatt Gold Passport members take note: Hyatt has opened side-by-side properties in the Changbaishan ski resort of North China. There's now a 163-room Park Hyatt and a 278-room Hyatt Regency in the area. ... Hilton HHonors players take note: DoubleTree by Hilton has slapped its flag on a 30-room resort in the Seychelles called Allamanda. The property is undergoing a much-needed renovation.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Virgin Atlantic is beginning to charge for coach seat assignments chosen more than 24 hours before departure. Unless you are Flying Club gold elite or traveling on a full-fare ticket, you'll pay 25 pounds (or about $41) for the privilege of choosing a coach seat before check-in. Full details are here. ... United Airlines says it will no longer allow unaccompanied minors to travel on connecting itineraries. Effective immediately, minors traveling alone can only be booked on nonstop flights. Full details are here. ... British Airways is the first European carrier to allow gate-to-gate use of personal electronic devices. Complete details are here. ... At least three U.S. airlines--Delta, Southwest and JetBlue--say they will not permit voice calls when and if the Federal Communications Commission lifts its restriction on the use of in-flight mobile phones. ... Delta Air Lines' attempt to raise fares last week failed when Southwest Airlines failed to match. ... A high-speed direct rail link between Paris and Barcelona launched this week. The run takes six hours and 25 minutes. Nonstop flights between the two cities take about two hours.

'Twas the Tactical Before Christmas ... And to All a Good Flight
This is the last edition of Tactical Traveler before Christmas and much as I'd wish to create an insanely wonderful holiday greeting, I can't beat the efforts of Canadian discount carrier WestJet. This video went viral last week--and for good reason. Without giving too much away in case you haven't seen it, the airline made a planeload of shocked passengers extraordinarily happy. Brilliant idea. Brilliant execution. Brilliant use of social media. And a wonderful gesture. And with that, my friends and fellow business travelers, may I wish a happy Christmas to all and to all a good flight!

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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.