By Joe Brancatelli

· A Shake-Up in the Luggage-Shipping Market
· Accor Carves Pullman Hotels from Sofitel
· DOT Caps Flights at Kennedy and Newark
· The New Champion of 'Velcro Hotels'
· Delta Adds More Los Angeles-Hawaii Flights
· Nairobi's Norfolk Hotel Gets a New Flag
· Air France Tests In-Flight Use of Cell Phones

Gee, This Guy Has the Skills to Be an Airline Executive
There's been a startling shake-up in the nascent world of luggage shippers, the companies that pick up and deliver your bags to your office, home, hotels and resorts. Sports Express, one of the field's first operators, has bought out two of the industry's best-known players: Virtual Bellhop and Luggage Express. The price: Just $100,000. Why so low? Universal Express, the parent company of Virtual Bellhop and Luggage Express, has been shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Universal Express sold billions of shares of unregistered stock on the penny market and a judge in the case called Universal's chief executive, Richard Altomare, a "repeated and remorseless" violator of securities laws. The SEC claims Universal "appears to exist primarily as a vehicle for fraud." And it gets more interesting: A court-appointed receiver trying to untangle Universal's affairs found that Altomare had the company spend more than $550,000 at a retail jewelry shop in Florida. Altomare then pawned the goods for about $500,000 in cash. Universal also covered Altomare's gambling debts and paid for dozens of corporate-jet excursions for Altomare and his wife. You can read some of the details, including the receiver's reports and an astounding deposition of Altomare, in court documents posted on the Universal Express home page.

Accor Carves the Pullman Brand From Its Sofitel Chain
The huge French hotel company, Accor, has created a new brand called Pullman. Twelve Pullman Hotels opened at once this week, all of them converted from Accor's best-known brand, Sofitel. Accor says that it is positioning Sofitel toward the deluxe end of the market and Pullman will be its traditional full-service brand. Among the best-known hotels switched to Pullman: the Sofitels at Brussels, Toulouse and Paris/Charles deGaulle airports; the Sofitel La Defense and Rive Gauche in Paris; and the Sofitel Cologne. … A 588-room JW Marriott has opened in China Central Place in Beijing. That's the same complex where a Ritz-Carlton opened last week. … Fairmont has taken over the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. The 103-year-old Norfolk is one of Africa's best-known hotels and has recently completed an extensive renovation.

The DOT Officially Caps Flights at Kennedy and Newark
As expected, the Transportation Department (DOT) this week slapped take-off and landing restrictions on delay-plagued Kennedy Airport in New York. Beginning March 15, peak-hour aircraft movements are limited to 82 or 83 per hour. The airlines had vehemently opposed the imposition of flight caps even though Kennedy's on-time performance had slid into the 60 percent range this summer as the carriers scheduled around 100 flights during peak hours. Oddly, however, when the DOT announced the caps on Wednesday (December 19), the airlines issued generally polite statements of support. In other words, I smell a rat. Only time will tell whether the airlines will actually move flights to non-peak hours or whether the DOT is somehow doing less than meets the eye. At the same time, the DOT says it will also cap flights at Newark Airport to ensure that airlines do not shift JFK operations to EWR. The airlines didn't seem to have any problems with that move, either. Curiouser and curiouser…

The New Champion of 'Velcro Hotels' Is in San Francisco
Business travelers are no strangers to the concept of the "Velcro hotel," the industry name for lodging properties that change their brand affiliations so quickly their signs are supposedly affixed with Velcro. There seems to be a new champion of Velcro: The 403-room hotel at 480 Sutter Street near San Francisco's Union Square. The property spent much of its life as a high-rise Holiday Inn. It became a Holiday Inn Select after that. Then it became the Crowne Plaza Union Square in 1998. Last week, the 30-story property changed names again, this time to Hotel 480. But that's a temporary moniker. The owners, a real-estate investment trust called Felcor, have handed management of the property to Marriott. After a $30 million renovation during the next year, the property will take on one of Marriott's brand names.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines is adding two more Hawaii nonstop routes next year. It will fly from Los Angeles to both Lihue, Kauai, and Kona on the Big Island. The daily flights launch on June 5. … President Bush has signed a law that raises the mandatory retirement age for pilots to 65. Previously, commercial pilots were required to retire at age 60. … New York State's modest "passenger rights law" survived its first legal challenge today (December 20). ATA, the airline trade group, asked a federal district judge to overturn the law because it interfered with the federal government's sole right to regulate inter-state carriers. However, the state law requires airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers stuck on planes for more than three hours and the judge ruled that those provisions are health and safety issues, not regulatory matters. … If you're keeping track, two more airlines--Cathay Pacific and Qantas--may a face strike over the Christmas holidays. … Air France has begun testing in-flight mobile phones. The six-month test is meant to determine passenger's reactions to in-flight use of personal cell phones for both voice and text communications.
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.