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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 10 TO 23, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Think Chicago/O'Hare Is Bad Now? Just Wait ...
· Lufthansa's Journey to Fewer First-Class Seats
· Hyatt Plays Catch-Up in Hotel Numbers Game
· American Decides It Wants to Play in Atlanta
· Marriott Offers Portable Charging in Lobbies
· Delta's Not Sure You're Elite Enough to Be Elite
· Another Small Sign Northeast Shuttle Is Dying


Think ORD Is Bad Now? Wait Until United and American Finish
On-time figures released by the Transportation Department this week show what we already know: 2014 is the pits for flying. At 74.82 percent on-time during January through August, 2014 rates sixth-lowest in 20 years. Worst of all? Chicago O'Hare, which has only managed an on-time performance of 65 percent during the first eight months of the year. September and October are guaranteed to be a disaster thanks to the fire last month at the air traffic control center in suburban Chicago. Not only isn't there any relief in sight, but it is also guaranteed to get worse at ORD in the months ahead. Why? The incumbent carriers American and United plan to "re-bank" their operations, which means having flights arrive and depart at virtually the same time. Rebanking is purportedly more profitable for airlines, but far less efficient and logical than "rolling" hubs where flights arrive and depart throughout the day. O'Hare is already worst in the nation with United and American operating rolling hubs, so we can only imagine what the future will be like as the carriers allow timeliness to deteriorate even further as they pursue additional profit.

Delta's Not Sure You Are Elite Enough for Elite Status
Delta Air Lines is raising the minimum-spend requirements for 2016 elite status in SkyMiles. The comparatively modest dollar increases seem more annoying than anything else. What's really appalling is Delta's arrogance. In announcing the higher levels this week in an Email to elite members, Delta condescendingly explained that "When everyone's an elite flyer, no one is." It then went on to unveil the new levels with the claim that it represented the "more exclusive 2016 SkyMiles Medallion program." For 2016 Silver status, you'll need to spend at least $3,000 in fares during 2015, up from $2,500 in 2014. Gold goes to $6,000 from $5,000. Platinum to $9,000 from $7,500 and Diamond to $15,000 from $12,500. The minimum-mileage requirements--from 25,000 to 125,000 miles--did not change. You can examine the changes here.

Lufthansa's Tortured Journey to Shedding First-Class Seats
Lufthansa has long had more long-haul aircraft with first-class cabins than any carrier in the world. They even have a stupendous terminal in Frankfurt totally devoted to first-class flyers. But global markets have turned against first class and Lufthansa is finding it harder and harder to justify its globe-spanning network of first-class routes. In recent years, the airline has responded gingerly. It initially cut the number of accommodations per cabin to eight from 16, first offering a unique seat-and-bed layout and lately creating equally unique first-class berths with mattresses and moving privacy walls. It even discounts up front now, something traditionally anathema to Germans. But cultural proclivities notwithstanding, Lufthansa is finally bowing to market conditions and planning for long-haul routes from its Frankfurt hub without first class. Starting next year, a project internally dubbed Jump will reconfigure as many as 14 Airbus A340-300s without first and with fewer business-class seats. The A340s are inefficient compared to newer aircraft, but chief commercial officer Jens Bischof says the fact that Lufthansa won't incur any new capital costs will offset the higher operating costs. Jump routes will also have 20 percent lower "back-of-the-house" expenses thanks to recent agreements with suppliers. "From the passenger's view, everything else remains the same," Bischof explains. "The planes will still say 'Lufthansa' and we'll have the same premium in-flight product and [seats] that we have now."

Hyatt Plays Catch-Up in the Hotel Numbers Game
With about 600 hotels worldwide, Hyatt is the smallest of the major U.S. chains, dwarfed by Marriott and Hilton (at least 4,000 each) and even Starwood (more than 1,000). But Hyatt is playing catch-up--and playing hard. Just a few weeks after opening a pricey Park Hyatt in a new tower overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, Hyatt has opened another property in midtown. The 122-room Hyatt Herald Square is a redo and reflag of a Holiday Inn that had opened only about a year ago. Meanwhile, Hyatt also opened its third hotel in 10 months in Puerto Rico. The latest is the 126-room Hyatt House San Juan in the Miramar neighborhood. Hyatt has also opened a Hyatt Place in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. The 126-room hotel is located across the street from the sprawling Chandler Fashion Center that includes four department stores and a 20-screen movie theater.

American Decides It Wants to Play in Atlanta After All
The mantra of the former US Airways team that now runs American Airlines is "dominate, do not compete." That explains why virtually all US Air flights touch one of its fortress hubs or serve the New York-Boston-Washington shuttle runs. But even American has to fight sometime and it will bulk up a bit at Atlanta/Hartsfield, the home court of Delta Air Lines. On January 6, American resumes flights between New York/LaGuardia and ATL, a route it cut earlier this year. There'll be four daily regional-jet flights. American will also add three daily flights between Los Angeles and Atlanta starting on March 15. That route will be served with Boeing 737-800s. Of course, you could say that this really isn't a strategy deviation because both Atlanta routes actually touch existing American hubs. But let's give American the benefit of the doubt since we do need whatever competition we can get these days. ... Speaking of Delta Air Lines and the Northeast Corridor Shuttle, some big news: Effective November 2, Delta is moving the Boston-LaGuardia run out of the Delta Shuttle's home at LGA's Marine Air Terminal and into Delta Terminal C. That'll give Boston-based flyers more access to Delta's other flights to/from its LaGuardia hub. But it's also another subtle sign that the traditional point-to-point Air Shuttle is dying.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Marriott says the lobbies of 29 hotels will be equipped this month with Kube System portable charging stations. That'll allow guest to wirelessly recharge their phones and tablets. ... American Airlines has cut a deal with Cadillac on a number of promotions. American already uses Cadillacs at Los Angeles to shuttle Concierge Key members with tight connections between gates. That program will be expanded to its other hubs by the end of the year. Travelers will also be offered 7,500 AAdvantage miles to test-drive Cadillacs at local dealerships. ... You couldn't possibly have missed this story, but just in case: Hilton has sold the Waldorf Astoria in New York for $1.9 billion to a Chinese insurance company. Hilton will continue managing the iconic, if dated, property for 100 years. Let's at least hope somebody renovates the dumpy guestrooms sometime in the next 100 years. ... Instead of ending next week as originally expected, Delta Airlines will be able to keep flights between Dallas/Love Field and its Atlanta hub going until the end of the year. Delta cut a temporary deal with Southwest Airlines for gate space at Love.

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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.