By Joe Brancatelli

· The Big Six Are Heading the Way of Pan Am
· Taking Off the Ritz--and Other Brand Changes
· More Free Wi-Fi Options at the Airport
· The Weak Dollar Keeps Tourists From Europe
· Martin Yan Can Cook at the Airport Now
· Delta Air Lines Closing Its City Ticket Offices
· American and El Al Will Code Share Next Year

The Big Six Are Heading the Way of Pan Am
It was about four years ago that I criticized the Big Six for abandoning their international services. My point then: What good is being a "network" carrier if you don't have an international network? Now, with lemming-like precision, the Big Six have gone the other way. All of the Big Six have dramatically reduced domestic flying and moved planes and service to international routes. That trend will continue next year, too. According to an analysis of the Big Six conducted by a division of the Official Airline Guide and published this week in USA Today, domestic flying by the Big Six will decline an average of 4.4 percent in 2008. United Airlines (8.4 percent) and US Airways (6.1 percent) will have the biggest drop in U.S. capacity, followed by American (4.6 percent), Northwest (3.5 percent), Continental (3.3 percent) and Delta (0.6 percent). Delta's apparently stable domestic capacity next year is misleading, of course. In the 27 months since it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Delta has dramatically slashed its domestic network and the international component of its business has doubled to 40 percent. Delta also has announced 28 new international routes for next year. Now the question I asked almost four years ago is fairly reversed: What good is claiming to be a "network" carrier if you don't have a domestic network? And then there's a new question: When does the Pan Am-like imbalance of a shriveled domestic feeder service to an international network destroy the Big Six just as it doomed the nation's one-time "chosen instrument"?

Taking Off the Ritz--and Other Branding Changes
Ritz-Carlton has lost its Pasadena branch. The well-known Huntington Hotel & Spa has been purchased by the Hong Kong-based parent company of Langham Hotels, which operates hotels in London, Hong Kong, Boston, Auckland and Melbourne. The change from the Ritz lion to the Langham eagle is due on January 8. … New owners have taken over at the Richardson Hotel in Dallas and will convert it to a Hyatt Regency. … Le Méridien, the hotel brand once owned by Air France and now a division of Starwood, has a new outpost. It has put its flag on the Hotel @ MIT and renamed it Le Méridien Cambridge. … In London, the Thistle Charing Cross has dropped the Thistle name and is now a part of Guoman, Thistle's boutique operation. Guoman also operates the former Thistle properties near Marble Arch and Tower Bridge. … In Moscow, an 84-unit all-suite property called the MaMaison Pokrovka has opened between the Garden and Boulevard rings.

Suddenly, More Free Wi-Fi Options at the Airport
So here's some unalloyed good news: There are more free Wi-Fi options at the nation's airports. At Denver International, for example, the airport's operators have switched to free, advertiser-supported access and dropped the $7.95 a day fee. And American Airlines says its Admirals Club lounges in the United States and Puerto Rico now offer free Wi-Fi. You have to be an Admirals Club member or visiting the club on a paid day pass, however. Flyers who use their American Express Platinum Card to enter the lounge will still have to pay for Wi-Fi. … Continental Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are testing paperless boarding passes at Houston/Intercontinental Airport. Travelers can use boarding passes (and attendant bar codes) that have been downloaded to their mobile phones or PDAs. … A branch of the Silver Diner chain has opened at Baltimore/Washington Airport. … And speaking of airport dining, celebrity chef Martin Yan is joining Wolfgang Puck and Todd English with airport branches. The first airport location of Yan Can Cook will open in San Diego next year. … Budget Rent-A-Car has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to disclose hidden gas fees for travelers who drove their rental cars fewer than 75 miles. Budget now promises to disclose all relevant fees, including a policy that charges renters $9.50 if they cannot produce a gasoline receipt on low-mileage rentals.

The Weak Dollar Is Keeping the Tourists Away From Europe
Business travelers who must travel to Europe have to shrug and do the best they can with their weak dollars, now trading at about $1.45 to the 13-nation euro. But leisure travelers have options and they are apparently exercising them. The USTOA, the trade association of tour operators, says bookings to Europe are down by about 20 percent. … You've heard about the Southwest Effect, which is when airfares plummet when Southwest Airlines starts flying on a route. Maybe we should coin the term "AirTran Effect" for skyrocketing fares. AirTran dropped its Philadelphia to Boston route recently, leaving flyers in the clutches of Delta Airlines and US Airways. With AirTran gone, Delta and US Airways have raised the one-way, walk-up fare to $479 on the 278-mile route.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says that it is closing all of its city ticket offices except for its New York City location. The 16 branches in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Europe and Latin America close on December 15. … American Airlines and El Al have cut a code-share deal. Effective February 1, American will put its code on El Al's flights to Tel Aviv from New York/Kennedy, Newark, Los Angeles, Miami and six European cities. … Unions at Air France have called a 24-hour strike at Paris/Orly on December 20. The job action shouldn't affect Air France flights to and from the United States since they operate from Paris/CDG. … A scaled-down version of New York's Plaza Hotel reopens on January 1. Most of the building on Central Park has been turned into apartments, but the new Plaza will have 282 rooms and suites. It will be managed by Fairmont.
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.