By Joe Brancatelli

· The Big Shake-Up at the Car-Rental Counter
· AirTran Ups the Ante in the Battle for Midwest
· Old Waikiki Hotels Get Renewed and Reflagged
· Yes, Virginia, There Are Wine Bars at the Airport
· The FCC Says No to Cellphones on U.S. Flights
· Las Vegas Opens a Central Car-Rental Center
· Surprise! The DOT Doesn't Investigate Airlines

The Big Shake-Up at the Airport Car-Rental Counter
It's been decades since the car-rental players at the airports were subject to any new competition, but the game may be about to change. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is merging with Vanguard Car Rental Group, the company that controls National and Alamo. Both companies are private, so exact details of the merger between the $7 billion Enterprise and $2.14 billion Vanguard are unknown. But what we do know is this: Despite a big recent push by Hertz with its Hertz Local division, Enterprise dominates the in-town car-rental business. And even before the merger, Enterprise has been expanding its own at-the-airport presence. The merger is due to close in the third quarter and all three brands--Enterprise, National and Alamo--are likely to survive in some form. But the creation of an amalgam of three rental networks is sure to bring more competition for Hertz and Avis, the longtime leaders in on-the-airport rentals.

AirTran Ups the Ante Again in the Battle for Midwest
AirTran Airways has been pursuing Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines since last summer, first privately, then publicly and most recently through a hostile tender offer. Midwest management has refused all along to discuss a merger or combination of any kind and has done everything it could to discourage AirTran. But AirTran won't go away and last week it upped the ante again: It is now offering $15 a share to buy Midwest--$9 in cash and the rest in stock--and valued the bid at $389 million. Midwest has once again responded by trying to shoo AirTran away and it continues to announce new service in a bid to expand past its pursuer. Effective June 1, Midwest says it will launch Milwaukee-Raleigh regional-jet flights. Also new: Effective July 1, Midwest will launch regional-jet service from its Kansas City hub to both Colorado Springs and Madison, Wisconsin. In response, AirTran announced this week that it will up flights between Milwaukee and Las Vegas and add other Las Vegas flights to Moline and Bloomington, Illinois.

Everything Old Is Renovated and Reflagged in Waikiki
All of you Hilton HHonors players who love to burn your points in Hawaii have just won one and lost one. After a $65 million renovation, the old Prince Kuhio Hotel has been reflagged as the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio. The 601-room property, formerly an Outrigger and a Radisson, has a new 24/7 restaurant and the guestrooms have been outfitted with standard Hilton amenities and 42-inch flat-screen TVs. But Hilton has also lost a hotel just a few blocks away. The old Waikiki Surf hotel has been undergoing a years-long renovation to become the Wyland Waikiki, named after the famed Hawaii marine artist. Several dozen rooms opened last year under Hilton's Doubletree banner, but were closed when mold was discovered. When the 404-room hotel reopens in the next few weeks, it will be managed by Outrigger without the Doubletree name. And just to square all of the coconut circles, Outrigger owned and managed the property when it was the Waikiki Surf.

Have You Tasted the 2007 BWI Burgundy Yet?
Of all the retail and dining concepts that have been opened at the airports in recent years, you have to admit that you'd have never thought there'd be a market for a wine bar and retail wine shop. But Vino Volo obviously thinks otherwise. The enoteca opened its fourth outlet today (April 12) in Concourse A of Baltimore-Washington International. That follows recent openings at Washington/Dulles (Concourse C) and Seattle/Tacoma (Central Terminal Marketplace) after the original Vino Volo premiered in Sacramento (Terminal A). The San Francisco-based company says it will also open a shop and bar at New York/Kennedy later this spring. … Speaking of airport food and drink, the first new California Pizza Kitchen in almost seven years has opened at Oakland International. … And two things that should make food and wine taste better: Smoking is now barred at bars and restaurants at Charlotte/Douglas International. Smoking is now also verboten at most locations inside Calgary International. … Car renters in Las Vegas take note: McCarren Airport has opened a consolidated rental facility for the 11 on-airport companies. The $170 million rental center will have its own consolidated shuttle buses, too. Private rental-company vans have been barred.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
In case you were on your cellphone when the Federal Communications Commission made its announcement last week: The agency will continue to ban the use of mobile phones on U.S. domestic flights. … Southwest Airlines has raised the price of beer and wine to $4 a pop. … The self-involved fools who run start-up Virgin America apparently can't help themselves. After telling the Transportation Department (DOT) that it would fire Richard Branson's hand-picked choice for chief executive in order to receive approval to fly, the carrier has told the DOT that it doesn't want to do so. The DOT said last month that the dismissal of Fred Reid, a former Delta and Lufthansa executive, would be required before it could certify Virgin America to operate. … Chalk up another stiff in Latin America: LAB, the one-time flag carrier of Bolivia, has apparently folded. ... A Continental Airlines jet heading to Tel Aviv yesterday (April 11) created a security scare when the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers. Israeli air force fighter planes scrambled, intercepted the Continental flight and directed it back over the Mediterranean Sea until communications were restored.

Gee, We Hadn't Noticed…
The otherwise useless Senate Commerce Committee hearings yesterday (April 11) on a passenger's bill of rights did reveal one interesting tidbit. Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovel told senators that the DOT hasn't been investigating service complaints against the airlines. Despite repeated warnings about declining airline standards, he said that DOT officials had other priorities and hadn't pursued reports of long delays, lost bags, misleading advertising and lackluster passenger communication. The agency "has not conducted on-site compliance reviews, relying instead on self-certifications and company-prepared reports submitted by the air carriers without supporting documentation," Scovel charged.
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 © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.