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THE BRIEFING FOR JANUARY 9-23, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli
· Delta's New Plan: Many More Crappy Coach Seats
· American Offers Limited Perks With US Airways
· The 'New' Hotels That Used to Be Something Else
· Invasion of the Laker Clones Across the Atlantic
· IHG Rewards Members Now Get Free Internet
· Berlin-Brandenburg Won't Open This Year, Either
· Hyatt Elites Now Get 20 Percent Rate Discounts
Delta's Three-Year Plan: More Crappy Coach Seats
Delta Air Lines has won friends and influenced business travelers recently thanks to upgrades in its service and facilities and a precipitous decline at United Airlines. How will Delta capitalize on its newfound popularity? By reducing the number of seats in premium classes and stuffing more crappy "slimline" chairs into coach. The airline announced yesterday (January 8) that it would spend $770 million on aircraft makeovers "to meet the expectations of our customers." Apparently Delta thinks our expectations are more--and more uncomfortable--seats in coach. While trumpeting a few genuine enhancements--at-seat power and TV, headrests and larger overhead bins--on hundreds of narrowbody jets that it will retrofit in the next three years, Delta conveniently didn't mention the extra coach seats. On 126 Airbus A319s and A320s, there will be an additional row of coach, meaning six more seats per cabin. Meanwhile, 56 Boeing 757s will be reconfigured with fewer first-class seats and as many as three extra rows of coach. Add last month's disclosure of smaller business-class cabins and as many as 23 extra coach seats on some international Boeing 777s and 767s and you have a recipe for a very uncomfortable future flying at Delta. Of course, Delta isn't alone in the attempt to deflect customer attention by announcing small improvements while adding more seats. Alaska Airlines made a similar announcement last month and I first warned about the crunch in coach more than 18 months ago.
American Offers Up Limited Perks With US Airways
The "new" American Airlines, the mash-up of the "old" American and US Airways, this week announced its first tranche of cross-carrier benefits. Effective immediately, flyers can earn and burn American AAdvantage or Dividend Miles on either carrier. Flying either airline earns you elite-qualification miles in the program you choose. Elite flyers on both carriers get some reciprocity, including priority boarding and check-in and first- and business-class check-in privileges. Admirals Club and US Airways Club members can use any of the two carriers' airport lounges and American AAdvantage Citi Executive cardholders can also use US Airways lounges. FAQs and a roundup of basic policies are here. ... Members of IHG Rewards Club (fka Priority Club) take note: You now receive "standard" Internet access at all InterContinental family properties in the Americas, China, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Elite IHG members receive free Internet in Europe, too. The better news: You don't need to be a guest to use the WiFi in public areas of an IHG Family hotel. ... Elite Hyatt Gold Passport members take note: The chain's special rate (about 20 percent off standard daily rate) is now loaded in the chain's computers. If you're signed in, the price (called My Elite Rate) appears automatically in the pricing grid when you are booking at Hyatt.com. ... Virgin America Elevate has rolled out two new credit cards. The $149-a-year Premium Visa has an interesting perk: Ticket change and cancellation fees are waived.
A Whole Mess of 'New' Hotels That Used to Be Something Else
The new year starts with a notable number of "reflaggings," hotel industry jargon for switching out the brand name on an existing lodging property. Most notable: Omni has purchased a lavish, 253-room resort property in Arizona and renamed it the Omni Scottsdale. Although it has recently operated as an independent hotel called the Montelucia, the 34-acre resort opened as an InterContinental as the financial meltdown began in 2008. Meanwhile, InterContinental's Crowne Plaza flag now flies over the 290-room Phoenix Airport Plaza Hotel. Also at Phoenix Airport, the 106-room former Hampton Inn on South 48th Street has become a Country Inn and Suites. ... In London, Taj Hotels has stripped the Crowne Plaza name off its St. James Court near Buckingham Palace. The 110-year-old hotel is undergoing a restoration. ... In Pakistan, the 407-room Sheraton Karachi, reputed to be the safest place in town for expats to stay, has switched to the Swiss Movenpick brand. ... In Palo Alto, a 48-room property formerly known as Azure and Comfort Inn has switched to the Holiday Inn Express brand. ... In Toronto, the 486-room Metropolitan Hotel has repositioned itself as a DoubleTree by Hilton and is undergoing a renovation. ... In Toledo, the 212-room former Hilton hotel, most recently operating as an independent, has become a Radisson.
Invasion of the Laker Clones Across the Atlantic
Freddie Laker pioneered the idea of low-cost scheduled transatlantic flights in 1977 and a wave of imitators has spent the intervening decades failing to follow through. Now there's a new clutch of low-fare carriers willing to cross the pond. Norwegian, which launched several routes between Scandinavia and the United States in 2012, has big plans for 2014. And besides the U.S. routes it says it will launch to London, it will also add flights between New York and Bergen, Norway. Weekly flights to what Norwegian calls "the gateway to the fjords" begin on May 9. Norwegian uses Boeing 787 Dreamliners on its routes. Meanwhile, WestJet, the Canadian discounter, says it will go overseas, too. Effective June 15, WestJet will launch a nonstop route between St. John's (Halifax) and Dublin using Boeing 737s. And Wow Air, a low-cost Icelandic carrier, says it will fly six weekly flights on a London/Gatwick-Reykjavík-Boston/Logan route. Wow says flights will begin in the spring with Airbus A320s.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Gogo WiFi is now available in parts of Canadian airspace. ... Amtrak says its cellular WiFi service will be available on some Midwest routes by next month. The free service will operate on trains in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. ... The Internal Revenue Service has set the 2014 standard mileage rate for deductible automobile business travel at 56 cents per mile. That's a half-cent per mile less than 2013. ... Latvia is now the 18th European country using the euro as its official currency. ... Berlin officials say Berlin Brandenburg Airport won't open in 2014, either. The long-delayed facility, designed to replace Tegel and Schönefeld, was just weeks away from opening in mid-2012. A host of deficiencies at the multi-billion-dollar facility have yet to be corrected. ... There are now 14 automated customs-clearance kiosks in operation at Seattle-Tacoma. ... The Encounter Restaurant in the "theme building" at Los Angeles airport has closed.
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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 © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.