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THE BRIEFING FOR JULY 24-AUGUST 7, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli
· The Saddest, Giddiest Week in Travel History
· Don't Keep Company With La Compagnie Airline
· For Better or Worse, JFK Gets a New York Diner
· Virgin Australia Drops Its LAX-Melbourne Route
· Hilton Grabs Prime London Hotel From InterConti
· Hotel Rwanda in Kigali Becomes a Kempinski
· Your Travel-Security Taxes Jumped This Week
The Saddest, Giddiest Week in Business-Travel History
One of the most brilliant songs in Stephen Sondheim's Company is Sorry Grateful, an unsparing, bifurcated look at marriage. I couldn't help but think of the bipolar message of Sorry Grateful when trying to figure out the "big news" of the week. Was it the unremitting tragedy of three aircraft calamities in seven days: the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last Thursday (July 17) over the Ukraine, the crash of TransAsia Flight 222 yesterday (July 23) off the coast of Taiwan; or this morning's crash of Air Algerie Flight 5017? Or was it the giddy news that the nation's leading airlines this week posted net second-quarter earnings of nearly $4 billion? Surely, the death of almost 500 of our fellow travelers, coming so close on the heels of the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, is horrific and unremittingly sad. We shrug it off because it's our job as business travelers to make believe this stuff doesn't affect us. But we know we're just lying to ourselves because the alternative is to go to jelly at the thought of stepping on another flight. And, yet, it's impossible to ignore that financial windfall for the airlines. Even when we hate how they are cutting our services and raising our fares and fees to secure that profit, we desperately want our airlines to make money and be stable suppliers. So Sorry Grateful/Sad Giddy. It's the week that was in business travel and we have to work out how to deal with all the disparate strands and make sense of them all.
La Compagnie: Not an Airline With Which to Keep Company
A French start-up called La Compagnie launched flights between Newark Airport and Paris/Charles DeGaulle this week and it's not an airline with which you'll want to keep company. It's an all-business-class operation, a concept that has repeatedly and spectacularly failed in recent years. At the moment, it is only flying two or three days a week, a nearly useless schedule. La Compagnie's single Boeing 757-200 has a long and not particularly encouraging history, having bounced from first owner Iberia to at least six other airlines: Atlasjet of Turkey; Air Astana of Kazakhstan; Ethiopian Airlines; Saudi Arabian Airlines; Icelandair; and the British charter carrier Titan Airways. As configured for use by LaCompagnie, the aircraft offers 2x2 seating with 74 seatbeds. Unfortunately, the chairs are the annoying, uncomfortable and much-disliked "angled lie-flat" seats that guarantee you and your blanket end up puddled near the chilly cabin floor and wedged under the seat in front of you. Competition on the New York-Paris route is fierce with at least five other airlines--United, Delta, American, Air France and OpenSkies--offering business-class chairs that are at least as good as or better than La Compagnie what is selling. And speaking of selling, La Compagnie has launched with a too-good-to-be-true introductory price that is, in fact, phony. The airline's Web site is promoting a roundtrip price of $2,014 for two seats. But when I checked yesterday both online and via the airline's 800 number, there wasn't a single pair of seats available at that price.
JFK Gets a New York-Style Diner--For Better and Worse
Terminal 4 at New York/Kennedy Airport now has a New York-style diner. The 4,000-square-foot facility, called the Central Diner and located before security checkpoints, is a 1930s style New York eatery with banquettes, booths and patio seating. And it's already getting a reputation as a classic New York joint. The service is spotty at best and it's a "great way to get used to being ignored by New Yorkers," griped one reviewer on Yelp. ... Virgin Australia is dropping its three weekly flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles. The flights will be shifted to the Brisbane-Los Angeles route, which jump to daily from four stimes weekly. The changes take effect on October 26.
Hilton Grabs a Prime London Hotel From InterContinental
Hilton Hotels announced this week that its Conrad luxury brand will have a property in Central London beginning in September. The 256-room hotel is located at 28 Broadway in the former Queen Anne's Chambers. Does this sound vaguely familiar? It should. The hotel is now the InterContinental London Westminster, which opened to much fanfare in November, 2012. Before it opened, InterContinental signed a 20-year management deal on the property and hailed it as a "major deal" because the brand only had one other hotel in its hometown. So how did the 150 million pound property, which was also the key asset in a nasty court battle between two unhappy London developers, slip away? InterContinental won't say other than to claim that the decision was mutual and that IC continues to work with the owner, Shiraz Boghani, on a clutch of other London hotels. ... The hotel featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda as a place of refuge during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 now has a chain affiliation. Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali has become a Kempinski.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Your travel taxes increased this week via a change in the September 11 Security Fee. The one-way charge is now a flat $5.60 as opposed to $2.50 a segment. The $5.60 fee will be charged twice if your layover on a one-way itinerary exceeds four hours. A portion of the increased levy will go to the general fund, the first time in history that an airfare tax is not earmarked for improvements in the national airline infrastructure. ... A follow-up on the British Airways decision to discontinue first-class service on Boeing 747-400 flights to London from Phoenix, Las Vegas and Vancouver. The cabin will remain on the flights, but you can't buy it since BA is phasing out the older type of first class installed on those jets. The seats in first will be sold as part of the flight's business-class inventory instead.
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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.