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THE BRIEFING FOR JAN. 23 TO FEB. 6, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· 'Customer-Friendly' United Is Losing Customers
· Loews Offers Free In-Room WiFi to All Its Guests
· Austrian Airlines Ramps Up Flights to Vienna Hub
· United Reopens a Boarding Area in San Francisco
· $2 Billion Mumbai Terminal 2 Is Ready for Flights
· Virgin America Club at LAX Opens to Priority Pass
· Speak Loudly and Spout Business-Travel Opinions


'Customer-Friendly' United Is Losing 250,000 Customers a Month
Airlines began reporting fourth-quarter and full-year 2013 results this week and it won't surprise you to learn that Delta Air Lines is lapping the field. Its full-year income was $2.7 billion compared to $1 billion at United Airlines. However, you could hardly learn that by listening to or reading the transcript of United's earnings call with analysts. In fact, according to United's C-suite executives, the carrier is now "customer-friendly." I lost count of how often chief executive Jeff Smisek, chief revenue officer Jim Compton and others used the term. But riddle me this: How is it that "customer-friendly" United lost 2.5 million customers in the first ten months of 2013? Except for AirTran Airways, which is being eliminated by Southwest Airlines, United was the only major carrier losing customers in 2013. Federal statistics released last week show United's 10-month passenger count was down 3.2 percent. Delta, on the other hand, was up 3.3 percent and Alaska Airlines' passenger count was up 6.8 percent. By the way, "customer-friendly" United has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737-900ER aircraft. They are stuffed with 179 "slimline" seats that offer as little as 30 inches of legroom in coach.

Loews Hotels Offers Free in-Room WiFi to All Guests
Loews Hotels has a problem with business travelers. Although its hotels and resorts skew upmarket and are generally top-notch, there are only 17 of them. That means business travelers, tied to much larger chains and their frequent guest programs, aren't likely to break away to stay with Loews. So Loews is responding with free WiFi--in every room, for every traveler. Chances of it swaying many business travelers? Low. After all, it doesn't take much to get free WiFi from your existing chain. And if you don't stay enough to earn the status you need to get free WiFi from major chains, then you probably already consider Loews Hotels. Still, good to know and, if you're now a Loews customer, a new freebie for you. ... Speaking of those much larger competitors, it's been a busy week for new properties. Hyatt, the smallest giant, has opened two new Hyatt Place branches, a 93-room outlet in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and a 146-room location in the Woodlands in Houston. ... Starwood has opened a 200-room Westin in the Puntacana Resort in the Dominican Republic and a 197-room Sheraton in Zurich. ... Marriott opened a 133-room Renaissance in Aix-en-Provence, France. ... Hilton opened another Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan, this one a 401-room branch on West 54th Street. ... Just before the World Economic Forum began this week in Davos, InterContinental opened a 216-room resort in the swanky Swiss Alps resort. It also opened an 81-room Holiday Inn Express on Peoria Street just off I-70 in Denver.

Austrian Airlines Ramps Up Vienna Service This Summer
Austrian Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will ramp up Vienna flights this summer. Iin July, there'll be 33 flights to North America, a jump of 30 percent over last year. That includes 12 weekly flights to New York/JFK; a new route (five new weekly flights to Newark); daily flights on its existing Washington/Dulles route; and more flights to Chicago/O'Hare. "We're in growth mode now," explains Don Bunkenburg, North America managing director of sales for the Lufthansa Group. Thanks to Lufthansa's joint venture operation with Star Alliance partners United Airlines and Air Canada, Austrian is "drawing more premium business travelers. That's new. Before, Austrian focused on lower-yield leisure flyers." To court business flyers, Austrian has upgraded business-class cabins with full-flat beds, improved onboard service and tweaked connections at its compact Vienna hub. That last bit is especially important because only 15-20 percent of Austrian's U.S. customers are headed to Vienna. Most go onward to Eastern Europe or former Soviet republics. Austrian "flies to places no one else [in the Star Alliance] does," Bunkenburg notes. ... Copa Airlines, the Panamanian carrier, is launching two new routes. Effective June 3, it'll launch four weekly flights to Montreal. Beginning on July 11, there will be four new weekly flights to Fort Lauderdale.

United Reopens a Boarding Area in San Francisco Next Week
United Airlines' big hub at San Francisco Airport gets a long-overdue upgrade next week with the reopening of Boarding Area E at Terminal 3. Due to open Tuesday (January 28), the facility has ten gates. It has been outfitted with nine workstations, nearly 400 power outlets, Bay Area food and beverage shops, a yoga room and free WiFi. ... Speaking of new, Terminal 2 at Mumbai International is now complete. The $2 billion facility features 7,000 works of art and 1,000 lotus-flower-shaped chandeliers. International flights move into the gleaming facility in a few weeks. You can view a slick video presentation here. Will it work for travelers? Hey, it's India. Let's see what happens. ... WestJet, the Canadian discount airline, moves its nonstop Calgary-New York route to Kennedy Airport from Newark on April 27. ... SuperShuttle, the shared-ride service, is now available at Boston/Logan airport. ... Le Bourget Aero Suites, just off I-495 near Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, has switched to the Holiday Inn Express flag. In earlier days, the 159-room property was also known as the Park Inn International.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The Virgin America lounge in Terminal 3 at Los Angeles now accepts the Priority Pass card for entrance. That means American Express Platinum cardholders, who have Priority Pass Select, also have free access. ... IHG Rewards Club (fka Priority Club Rewards) has cut an earn-and-burn deal with LifeMiles, the frequent flyer program of Avianca. Why is that important? Avianca is part of the Star Alliance and some flyers use LifeMiles for relatively inexpensive awards on other Star carriers. ... Chalk up another win for high-speed trains. Stung by furious competition from Italy's two high-speed rail lines that operate on the busy Milan-Rome Corridor, low-fare/no-frills Ryanair is dropping flights between the two cities. ... Thailand travelers take note: The continuing political unrest in Bangkok has led many carriers to curtail service to the Thai capital. Check your schedules. ... KLM has banned all liquids from carry-on bags on flights from Russia. The restriction is in place until March 21. Complete details on the Dutch carrier's Olympics policy are here.

Speak Loudly and Spout a Lot of Business-Travel Opinions
In case you don't get enough of me at JoeSentMe, I'm the guest this week on the Runway Girl Network podcast. Hosts Mary Kirby and Max Flight and yours truly talk about the shrinking legroom in coach, the high cost of and odd choices made about in-flight WiFi and other business-travel topics. I apologize in advance for how loud my part of the interview sounds. Blame it on Skype ... or passion.

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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.