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THE BRIEFING SEPTEMBER 11 TO 25, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Southwest Tries Painting Over Its Big Problems
· United Will Drop Its International First Class
· Burning Hotel Points? Note These Key Changes
· Hertz Dumps Its CEO, But the Aging Cars Remain
· BA Upgrading Its B747 Premium-Economy Seats
· The Dollar Firms Up Against Global Currenices
· Warning! Air France Will Be on Strike Next Week


Southwest Tries Painting Over Its Big Problems
Southwest Airlines flew a party of favorites to Dallas this week, plied them with bourbon and literally tried painting over its problems. The big reveal--"a modern new look"--entails a new Southwest Airlines logo and paint scheme and a heart emblazoned on every aircraft. The updated brand identity is "bold," Southwest executives insist, but not so important that the airline will break a sweat getting it out there. Although you will see the new look at airports and on collateral material almost immediately, it'll take seven years to paint the entire Southwest fleet. But what about those problems? The much-derided Evolve seats won't be given additional legroom, but more and better padding is necessary, Southwest admits. And the aggressive scheduling that wrecked Southwest's on-time rating? A work in progress, Southwest says. Coincidentally this week, government figures revealed that Southwest fell to next-to-last in on-time performance in July, more than five points below the dreary industry average of 75.6 percent. Southwest's timeliness crisis began in earnest in August, 2013, when the airline created a schedule with the equivalent of 16 planes worth of new flying without actually adding a single extra aircraft. After a series of tweaks, Southwest claims its on-time performance began improving a few weeks ago and flights are now running about 80 percent on-time.

The Other Shoe Drops: United Will Drop International First Class
The last time most business travelers heard from United Airlines chief financial officer John Rainey, he was uttering the seminal "over-entitled" comment about United's atrociously botched 2012 operational combination with Continental Airlines. Rainey popped back into public view again last week and all but confirmed what has been an open secret for months: United is going to kill its outdated international first-class cabin. As Rainey explains it, first class isn't much better than business class (especially United's tired GlobalFirst product) and no one books it. Of course, United should have dropped its international first class when it was merging with Continental (which had long ago dropped first in favor of its superior BusinessFirst product), but United chief executive Jeff Smisek was too busy making believe customers wouldn't notice a bifurcated, unfocused international operation. Look for an official announcement soon now that Rainey inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. And in typical United fashion, expect a long, slow, drawn-out death since it will only eliminate the first-class cabins as its international aircraft are brought in for scheduled maintenance checks. ... Speaking of things overdue for an overhaul, British Airways is upgrading the coach and premium-economy cabins of the 18 Boeing 747 aircraft that will remain in the fleet. Premium-economy seats will get new padding and seat covers and every chair will be equipped with universal AC power receptacles and USB ports. There'll also be a new touch-screen entertainment system in coach and new carpets and curtains.

Burning Hotel Points? Note These Important Property Changes.
If you are the type of business traveler who hordes your hotel points for stays at big-deal properties in key vacation destinations, pay attention to these important changes. Starwood Preferred Guest has a third option in Mauritius now that Westin has rebranded the 190-room Grand Mauritian Resort. Known as the Westin Turtle Bay, it's a Category 4 redemption. Meanwhile, Hilton HHonors has lost the 474-room Waldorf Astoria in Naples, Florida. It exited the Hilton system this week and resumed its previous name as the Naples Grande Resort. On the other side of the state, however, the 231-room Hilton Cabana Miami Beach has opened on Collins Avenue at 62nd Street. It's a Category 9 redemption. And IHG Rewards Club has picked up its third property in Jaipur, India's Pink City. The 172-room Holiday Inn City Centre requires 20,000 points a night. ... Back in the real world, there are three new properties from Marriott: a 109-room Courtyard in Victoria, Texas; an 88-room Fairfield Inn in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota; and a 110-room TownePlace Suites in Springfield, Missouri. ... Carlson has opened Country Inn properties in Bozeman, Montana (79 rooms), and Roseville, Minnesota (91 rooms).

Hertz Dumps Its CEO, Placates Icahn, But the Aging Cars Remain
I tipped you several weeks ago that Carl Icahn's arrival as a Hertz investor would be part of the fall travel agenda. I guess I was wrong. The story has already popped big time. Hertz's much-disliked chief executive, Mark P. Frissora, didn't even stick around for the fight. He quit on Monday (September 8) and no one mourned his departure. Hertz and Icahn announced today (September 11) that they've reached a truce and Icahn will receive three seats on the car-rental giant's board. So all that's left is Hertz's increasingly aging fleet, which the company tries to rent at inflated daily rates. According to Bloomberg, as many as 200,000 of the 515,000 vehicles in the Hertz fleet have at least 35,000 miles on the odometer. ... Two new airport hotels of note: Carlson has opened the 391-room Radisson Blu at Moscow/Sheremetyevo. It'll soon be directly connected to the passenger terminals. And InterContinental has opened a 119-room Holiday Inn at Hermosillo, Mexico. ... Boingo has taken over WiFi service at Phoenix/Sky Harbor. Basic speed is free throughout the airport.

The Value of the Dollar Is Firming Up Around the World
Due to a panoply of unrelated reasons, the dollar is gaining strength against major world currencies. The euro has dropped below $1.30, the British pound is down to $1.62 and the dollar has reached 107 Japanese yen. The Russian ruble is collapsing at 37.5 to the dollar. The Australian and Canadian dollars are now worth about 91 U.S. cents. ... How much does it cost to use Gogo, the leading in-flight WiFi provider? You'll have to guess since the struggling company is testing dynamic pricing. An all-day pass can range from $17 to $31 depending on the airline and the time you try to log in. Lots of luck trying to figure out its per-hour rate. ... Separately, Gogo and T-Mobile have struck a deal that'll benefit business travelers who use the nation's fourth-largest mobile company. Effective September 17, T-Mobile customers can text in flight free over the Gogo network. Complete details are here. Not all smartphones are compatible, however, and some will need a software upgrade.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Travelers to, from or through France take note: Another pilot strike is scheduled against Air France next week. The planned dates: September 15 to September 22. Both Air France and Delta Air Lines, which code-shares on many Air France flights, have posted travel waivers. The Air France information is here and the Delta information is here. We'll do breaking coverage as the strike unfolds, so watch your Email in the days ahead. ... If you happen to be at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare, check the supposedly "healthy" vending machine created by Farmer's Fridge. It sells salads, yogurt and chicken. ... Know the annoying automated minibars that charge you the moment you touch or jostle an item? Turns out they register inaccurate charges as much as 90 percent of the time. Here's an interesting piece on the idiotic devices.

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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.