By Joe Brancatelli

· United Announces a Pig in a Poke in Business
· Cat Fight! JetBlue and Spirit Battle Over Ponce
· More Flights to India Will Launch in August
· Qantas Will Create a Premium Economy Class
· The U.S. and Canadian Dollars Near Parity
· What to Look for on the Road in August
· Like I Said, Worst Airline Executive Ever

United Announces a Pig in a Poke in Business Class
United Airlines announced its new international business class on Monday (July 23), but no one's allowed to see it. The airline didn't produce the seat at a major business-travel trade show in Boston this week and none of the half-dozen United executives I've spoken with have seen a final version, either. If United's announcement is to be believed, the mostly derivative product will offer a 23.5-inch wide seat that converts to a fully flat, 76-inch bed. There will be 15.4-inch video monitors, on-demand audio-video programming, an iPod adapter, an AC power port and a USB port. Most notable: Seats will face both forward and backward in clusters of two. Astonishingly, United says that it will take more than two years to outfit the airline's 97-plane international fleet. That means United's new product won't be fully available until 2009, nine years after British Airways introduced business-class beds. Also notable: The seat still seems to be a work in progress. According to an internal United document, the first aircraft with the new seats will not have the iPod adapters and will have to be retrofitted "at a later date." When and where will the new seats first appear? United is mum and the internal document says that travelers won't know if their aircraft has the new business class until "they check-in at the airport." One final note: The new business class and United's previously announced new first class will substantially reduce the airline's total inventory of premium-class seats. That will certainly make upgrades harder than ever to obtain. United has set up a Web site to showcase the new cabin, but there are precious few details there, either.

Cat Fight! JetBlue and Spirit Battle Over Ponce
These are strange times in the airline business and nothing proves that more than the cat fight that has broken out on the obscure (to say the least) route between Fort Lauderdale and Ponce, Puerto Rico. On Tuesday (July 24), JetBlue Airways announced it would begin Fort Lauderdale-Ponce service on November 5. Along with its previously announced new flights from Fort Lauderdale to both Buffalo and Syracuse, New York--both begin on November 1--that makes 10 destinations that JetBlue serves from the Florida city. But the Ponce announcement apparently infuriated Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines. On Wednesday (July 25), Spirit announced that it, too, would launch Fort Lauderdale-Ponce flights. Spirit's service will launch on November 1. Which leads to just one question: Anyone out there actually want to fly to Ponce from Fort Lauderdale? Just asking…

More Flights to India Launch in August
The booming market for travel to and from India is growing fast and the Indian carriers want in on the action. Air India, the state-owned flag carrier, is adding a new route on August 1: New York/Kennedy to Mumbai. The new daily service, flown with Boeing 777-200s, is in addition to Air India's current U.S.-India flights via Europe. Then, on August 5, Jet Airways, India's extremely well-regarded private carrier, begins its first U.S. flights. It will fly Boeing 777-300s on a Newark-Brussels-Mumbai route. … Qantas is the first airline to announce a configuration for the Airbus A380, the gigantic, double-decker plane expected to begin commercial service later this year. The big news: Qantas will launch a Premium Economy class. There will be 32 seats in the so-called fourth cabin on the A380. Qantas will also launch Premium Economy service on its Boeing 747-400s in February. Qantas expects to launch its version of the A380 next summer and the Australian carrier says that the gargantuan plane will also have 332 coach chairs, 72 business-class seats and 14 seat-beds in first class. First and coach will be on the lower level. Business and Premium Economy will be upstairs.

What to Look for on the Road in August
Big news for Bay Area flyers: Southwest Airlines returns to San Francisco International on August 26. It will offer 18 daily nonstop flights to SFO from Chicago/Midway, San Diego and Las Vegas. … Speaking of Las Vegas, AirTran Airways adds new service from four Eastern cities this month. Beginning August 15, AirTran will fly to Vegas from Dayton; Akron/Canton; Flint, Michigan; and Rochester, New York. There will be three weekly flights from each city. … On the international front, all-business-class Maxjet Airways adds four weekly nonstop flights from Los Angeles to London's Stansted Airport on August 20. And Spirit Airlines begins three weekly flights to Managua, Nicaragua, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on August 2. … Finally, travelers to and from Seattle take note: Interstate 5, the main artery between the airport and downtown Seattle, will be a mess of construction between August 10 and August 29. Two or three lanes will be closed, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, between Spokane Street and Interstate 90.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
AirTran Airways increases its change fee on October 1. The new charge for changing tickets will be $75, up from $60. … The U.S. dollar continues to get pounded on world markets. The greenback hit a 30-year low against the Canadian dollar this week, dropping as low as $1.04. It also hit another low against the euro (almost $1.38) and is trading at about $2.06 against the British pound. … Effective August 4, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will lift the ban on cigarette lighters in carry-on bags. Cigarette lighters were the one item specifically barred by Congress, but the TSA has been whining about having to enforce the ban for almost five years. Congress bowed to the wishes of the TSA bureaucrats earlier this year. … Four Seasons has opened a 118-room hotel in Alexandria, Egypt. … The British Travelodge chain says that it is removing pay-per-view adult movies from all of its hotel rooms.

Like I Said, Worst Airline Executive. Ever. (At Least So Far…)
Earlier this month, I crowned Northwest Airlines chief executive Doug Steenland the worst airline executive ever. My reasoning: While his carrier was melting down due to a management-created crisis of cancellations in June, Steenland was writing himself a new batch of stock options. But what I didn't know was that Bill Moyers essentially beat me to the crowning of Steenland in an episode of Bill Moyers Journal. Here's a transcript of last month's segment on Northwest, its employee pay and Steenland's bloated compensation.
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.