By Joe Brancatelli

· Southwest Won't Sell Assigned Seats After All
· Courtyard by Marriott Disappears in England
· Continental Will Expand Its Cleveland Hub
· The Floor Keeps Falling for the U.S. Dollar
· American Challenges Northwest in Memphis
· More Fare-Hike Attempts--and a Few Succeed
· Doing What They Do Best: Ripping Us Off

Southwest Won't Offer Assigned Seats After All
The wags who insist that Southwest Airlines must evolve into a Big Six-like carrier to survive had all but guaranteed that the 800-pound gorilla of alternate airlines would switch to assigned seats. Well, the wags are nothing if not always wrong when it comes to Southwest, so it shouldn't surprise you that the airline won't offer assigned seating after all. Southwest announced this week that it will keep its open-seating policy, but further refine its cattle-call boarding procedure. Southwest will expand its A and B boarding groups to 60 passengers each. Each passenger will also receive a number (i.e. A5 or B40) and board in groups of five based on boarding letter and number. The airline says that the numbering system means flyers no longer have to queue up or wait in line for boarding privileges, thus theoretically ending the cattle call. Passengers can obtain a boarding group and boarding number when they check in for flights, which is permitted online 24 hours before departure. Another change: Families traveling together will no longer be able to pre-board. Unless they have obtained A group boarding cards, they will be required to wait until after the first 60 passengers have boarded. The system goes into effect nationwide by early November and Southwest has posted a video to explain the process. Bottom line for business travelers: If you obtain an A group boarding card, you are now assured a window or aisle seat without having to wait in line at the boarding gate.

The Case of the Disappearing Courtyards by Marriott in England
Tried to book a Courtyard by Marriott in England lately? JoeSentMe member and elite Marriott customer Bill Armstrong did and he was shocked to find that there weren't any. What Armstrong stumbled upon was the mass migration of the 11 British Courtyard properties to the Holiday Inn brand. The change occurred quietly back in May when Courtyard hotels in places like Slough, Coventry, Leeds, Reading, Ipswich and Milton Keynes hoisted the Holiday Inn flag. What is particularly fascinating about this migration is that it reverses a switch that the properties made in 1992. All 11 hotels had been Holiday Inn properties, but switched en masse to the Courtyard flag. Along the way, the hotels have been sold as a group several times and they have been owned by entities as diverse as Scott's, the Canadian hospitality chain, and Whitbread, the legendary British brewer. The 11 properties are now owned by a venture-capital operation called Kew Green and it chose to lead the properties back to Holiday Inn. Oddly, however, Kew Green says that it will work with Marriott on the debut of a "new generation" of Courtyard by Marriott in England. The first is due to open next year at London/Gatwick Airport.

Continental Plans Huge Growth at Its Cleveland Hub
A couple of years ago, Continental Airlines chief executive Gordon Bethune threatened to close the airline's Cleveland hub because Clevelanders were complaining about high fares and booking lower-priced flights at nearby Akron/Canton. But Bethune is gone and Continental's current management has decided that Cleveland is a great place to build a larger hub. The airline announced last week that it will increase service by 40 percent in the next two years. Besides the previously announced new flights between Cleveland and Paris/CDG beginning in May, Continental says it will launch a dozen new routes next year to the Midwest and South: Greensboro; Omaha; Savannah; Birmingham; Charleston, South Carolina; Green Bay; Tulsa; Little Rock; Memphis; Des Moines; and Lansing and Kalamazoo, Michigan. American Airlines launched flights between New York/LaGuardia and Minneapolis this month and Northwest Airlines changed its mind about challenging American's decision to fly into its MSP hub. American has sensed the weakness and announced this week that it will launch flights from LaGuardia to Northwest's Memphis hub beginning December 13. Delta Air Lines says it will begin nonstop service between Boston and Philadelphia on November 5. Clear, the struggling registered-traveler plan, has opened at San Francisco International.

The Floor Keeps Falling for the Humbled U.S. Dollar
Just when you thought that it couldn't get worse for the U.S. dollar, the beleaguered greenback has hit new record lows. As of this afternoon (September 20), it had fallen to $1.40 against the euro for the first time in history. And the U.S. dollar is now at parity ($1=$1) against the Canadian dollar. The loonie hasn't been this strong against the U.S. dollar in a generation. Two across-the-board fare increases have failed so far this month. Delta Air Lines tried a $10 roundtrip fare increase on September 7 and it was pulled back from most routes a few days later. On September 14, United tried a $6 roundtrip increase that largely crumbled earlier this week. But there were two more successful fare increases over this past weekend. AirTran Airways added $2-$5 on its one-way fares and the Big Six matched wherever they compete. And JetBlue Airways raised walk-up fares on some of its transcontinental routes by $50.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The short-term exemption for travel without passport to some Western Hemisphere nations ends October 1. Alaska Airlines says it will test in-flight Internet service next spring; American, Virgin America and Lufthansa have made similar announcements. The controversial inter-island Hawaii Superferry resumes limited sailings next week. The service launched last month and was almost immediately halted by a flap over environmental concerns. Silverjet, the British-based all-business-class carrier that flies between Newark and London/Luton, will add a second route. Effective November 18, it will fly between Luton and Dubai. It may be the first all-business-class route that doesn't originate or terminate in the United States.

Doing What They Do Best: Ripping Us Off
Everyone knows about the so-called Southwest Effect: Whenever Southwest Airlines enters a market, fares plummet and traffic booms. Well, we now have an example of what we can only label the Reverse Southwest Effect. As we reported in June, Southwest will drop transcontinental flights between Philadelphia and Baltimore and Los Angeles and Oakland. The result: soaring fares between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, where US Airways maintains a hub. Until October 3, Southwest charges $159 one-way on its LAX-Philadelphia nonstops. US Airways matches that fare. But beginning on October 4, when Southwest exits the market, US Airways' one-way fare on its LAX-PHL nonstops soar to $677.
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.