By Joe Brancatelli

· Southwest Approaches Final Frontier: New York
· Delta Backs Off 'Coach Choice' for SkyMiles Elites
· US Airways Restores Bonus Miles for Its Elites
· Hilton Grows Its Garden Inn Chain in Italy
· Suddenly, Everyone Wants to Fly to Geneva
· The Fontainebleau Reopens in Miami Beach
· Free WiFi (With Ads) Arrives at Oakland Airport

Southwest Airlines Approaches The Final Frontier: New York
Southwest Airlines is going after New York, one of the last gaping holes in its route network, and it is attacking the same way that it went after Chicago: by feasting on the bones of now-defunct ATA Airlines. Southwest this week submitted a $7.5 million bid to ATA's bankruptcy court in hopes of gaining the dead airline's remaining assets: 14 slots at LaGuardia Airport and ATA's operating certificate. As you'll recall, Southwest "rescued" ATA in 2004 and ended up with most of ATA's gates and assets at Chicago's Midway Airport. ATA never recovered and it stopped flying earlier this year. If Southwest gets the LaGuardia slots, it would represent seven roundtrip flights into New York's close-in airport. Except for a few flights into Islip, on Long Island, Southwest has never flown to the New York area. ATA's operating certificate has value, too. It includes the right to fly specially equipped two-engine aircraft over water to Hawaii, another market Southwest has yet to crack. Southwest had been code-sharing on ATA's Hawaii flights.

Delta and US Airways Bow to Their Most Frequent Flyers
It is always fun to watch the Big Six carriers climb down from their masters-of-the-universe perch. Faced with an unprecedented blowback from its elite SkyMiles customers, Delta Air Lines has changed the rules on its new Coach Choice program, which charges $5-25 for a seat assignment in supposedly preferred coach seats. Elite SkyMiles members will once again be able to select any coach seat at the time of booking without charge. Delta will continue to charge travelers without status, however. Meanwhile, over at US Airways, the question is whether there are any elite Dividend Miles flyers left to mollify. After months of resistance, US Airways executives have restored bonus miles for its elite flyers. Effective immediately, silver members will receive a 25 percent bonus per flight; gold members receive a 50 percent bonus; platinum flyers receive a 75 percent bonus; and Chairman's Preferred members receive 100 percent bonuses. Elites will also receive the bonuses retroactively for any flight taken after August 6, when US Airways first eliminated them. At the same time, US Airways announced that it is restoring the 500-mile minimum per flight for all Dividend Miles customers. And as ludicrous as it sounds, US Airways senior vice president of marketing Andrew Nocella told the Arizona Republic this week that the reversal on bonus miles was not due to passenger defections. "At no point did we find any conclusive evidence that we were seeing any booking away," he said. You have my official permission to cackle uncontrollably.

Hilton Grows Its Garden Inn in Italy
Hilton Garden Inn continues to grow in Italy. Its two newest properties are at Malpensa Airport in Milan and in the San Lazzaro di Savena district on the outskirts of Bologna. That makes five Garden Inns now open in Italy, with three more on the way in the next year. Montage, a luxury resort in Laguna Beach, California, has opened a second property in Beverly Hills. The 201-room hotel is the first newly built property in Beverly Hills in more than a decade. The Fontainebleau has reopened in Miami Beach after a $500 million renovation. The 22-acre resort, famous for its curvy, Morris Lapidus design and as one of the locations of Goldfinger, now has 1,500 rooms and a dozen restaurants and bars.

Suddenly, Everyone Wants to Fly to Geneva
The French-speaking crowd that dominates Geneva has always resented that Switzerland's main hub is in German-speaking Zurich. They hated it when now-defunct Swissair ended most of its international service at Geneva in the mid-1990s. And they even supported a Geneva-based carrier called Swiss World Airways, which lasted less than 90 days in 1998. So it's notable that both Air Canada and United Airlines this week said they would launch new service into Geneva. United said it would launch flights from its Washington/Dulles hub on April 19 with a Boeing 767 configured with first class, United's new business class and coach. And Air Canada says it will launch a Toronto-Montreal-Geneva route on June 2 using a Boeing 767. United has also announced that it will revive its Denver-London/Heathrow route on a seasonal basis between March and October. The airline launched Denver-London service earlier this year and killed it six months later. Travelers to India take note: Jet Airways is dropping its Brussels-Bangalore nonstop on January 12.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines says it will add a Portland (Oregon)-Long Beach route on February 8. Mexican food fans take note: La Casita, the much-admired tamale house in Denver, has opened a branch in the Concourse C Food Court at Denver International. Free, advertising-supported WiFi service is now available at Oakland Airport. Just in time for the plunge in traffic, new runways opened this week at Seattle-Tacoma, Chicago/O'Hare and Washington/Dulles airports.
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 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.