By Joe Brancatelli

· Everybody's Got an Opinion on the Swine Flu
· Omni Upgrades Select Guest Plan With Elite Perks
· The Last Tango in Paris Gives Way to a New Hotel
· Airlines Launch Niche Flights to Select Airports
· No New In-Flight Entertainment for US Airways
· Travel to Israel Plummeted in the First Quarter
· Bird-Strike Data Is Scary. Is Anyone Listening?

I'm Not a Doctor (or Joe Biden) and I Don't Play One in the Column
So who you gonna believe about swine flu? Vice President Joe Biden, who told NBC's Today Show yesterday (April 30) that he advised his family not to fly, ride subways or travel in confined spaces? The White House and the Vice President's handlers, who spent the rest of the day furiously walking back Biden's statement and absurdly claiming that he didn't say what he really said. Or the travel industry, which is indignant that anyone would suggest travel has a role in the spread of a fast-moving contagious virus? To be honest, none of them know anything about this virus, popularly known as swine flu and officially called H1N1. Should you fly? Should you cancel? I don't have any answers because I ain't a doctor, I ain't the veep--and I don't play either in Tactical Traveler. My best advice: Read the column by Marlene Fedin, the Wellness Concierge, consult your own physician and then make the call that makes you comfortable. Personally, this won't stop me from flying, but I'm a guy who doesn't go to doctors and never takes anything stronger than over-the-counter pain relievers. By the way, you might wish to consult the special flu page put together by Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition. It has a torrent of news, blog entries, government and quasi-government pronouncements and much more.

Omni Upgrades Select Guest Program With New Elite Levels
The Omni Hotels Select Guest frequent stay plan already suffers because of the chain's small footprint of just 43 properties. It didn't help that the program wasn't competitive in benefits, either. But Omni has fixed that, adding two elite levels with new perks. Basic Select Guest members now receive free WiFi, morning beverages and evening bottled water delivered to their room and free pressing of two items. Members at the Platinum Level (it requires six nights or three stays a year) also receive late check-out until 3 p.m., space-available room upgrades and a snack delivered at turndown. Members at the Black Level (20 nights or 11 stays) receive late check-out until 5 p.m., room upgrades confirmed 24 hours in advance, unlimited free pressing services and an alcoholic beverage at turndown. Omni will continue with its super-simple earnings program: Stay 10 paid nights and receive a free night. … Mileage Plan, the frequent flyer program of Alaska and Horizon airlines, has finally joined the other major plans and added a double elite-miles promotion. Members who register in advance receive double elite qualifying miles between May 6 and June 30. The lowest fares--G and T classes--do not qualify for the offer, however. … Until May 31, Delta has brought back a 500-mile bonus on booking at Delta.com or NWA.com for SkyMiles or WorldPerks members.

Suddenly, Airlines Are Launching Niche Flights to Select Airports
Major carriers are furiously slashing service--last fall's 10 percent cuts have been matched by more deletions during the first quarter--but they are also launching flights in select markets. United Airlines, for example, is adding two routes from Pittsburgh. Airbus A319 flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles begin on September 2. … Delta Air Lines is adding three daily flights between Northwest's Memphis hub and Dallas/Love Field on July 6. The flights will be operated with 50-seat regional jets. … On October 1, JetBlue Airways adds daily flights between its hub at New York/Kennedy and Barbados. … Air Europa adds a weekly flight between Miami and Tenerife in the Canary Islands on June 20. The flights will operate with Airbus A330-200s configured with 24 business-class and 275 coach seats.

Yeah, Yeah, Still More Hotels…
The hotel pipeline of new properties continues to gush despite the sharp fall in travel, so look for more deals as major chains keep adding locations. What's new this week? A 291-room W Hotel in Doha, Qatar; and three new properties under Marriott's Renaissance flag. That includes the historic Eden Roc in Miami; a 118-room, new-build Paris property near the Eiffel Tower; and a conversion of the 200-room Hotel 57 on the East Side of Manhattan. A cinematic note on that new Paris hotel: It is built on the site of the old Salle Wagram, where Bernardo Bertolucci filmed the tango competition depicted in the final scenes of 1973's Last Tango in Paris.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Waiting for that long-promised new in-flight entertainment system on US Airways? Forget it. The airline that is always first with the least has decided it won't install the system, which it has been testing on a single Airbus A320. The airline told employees that it couldn't raise financing for the installation. … Airlines may be ramping up service to Tel Aviv, something we discussed in Tactical Traveler two months ago, but travel to Israel is plummeting. Overnight stays in the first quarter of the year were down 26 percent. … After trying to bury the data, the Federal Aviation Administration released its statistics on bird strikes and the numbers are chilling. Bird strikes more than quadrupled in 2007 compared to 1990. The report said plane-wildlife collisions killed 219 people and destroyed 200 aircraft worldwide since 1988.
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 © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.