By Joe Brancatelli

· Some Roomier Seats in These Gloomier Times
· American Airlines Sticks a Fork in Two Dead Hubs
· Southwest Airlines Ramps It Up at Denver Again
· Priority Club Adds Free Flights to Its Reward Chart
· AirTran Builds in Milwaukee, BWI, the Caribbean
· Spirit Airlines Fined for Serial Passenger Abuses
· San Jose Loses as JetBlue Flips Transcon Routes

Some Roomier Seats in These Gloomier Times
It's not all gloom and doom up there. At least on some routes, some carriers not particularly known for comfort are ratcheting up their games a notch. US Airways has announced a long-overdue upgrade to its currently execrable international business-class product. The airline says that it will introduce fully lie-flat beds beginning in December. The so-called Envoy Suite will offer chairs that convert to beds that are 20.5 inches wide (plus five more inches with the armrests down) and 76 to 80 inches long. The chairs will be arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and will be equipped with a standard power outlet, a USB port and 12-inch monitors. But since this is US Airways, don't expect miracles. The suites are only slated for installation on 15 Airbus A330-200s and the work won't be completed until the summer of 2011. The airline's Airbus A330-300s will also get some form of the Envoy Suite, but work on those aircraft won't be finished until the summer of 2012. And US Airways had nothing to say about the Boeing 757s and 767s on its international runs. Meanwhile, KLM is adding an upgraded coach cabin on its intercontinental aircraft. The so-called Economy Comfort Zone will offer chairs with four additional inches of legroom and greater recline. The premium for seating in the new section at the front of the aircraft will range from $112 to $210 one-way. At least one KLM plane already has the service and the remaining aircraft should be done by December. Finally, American Airlines says it will add a "competitive" first-class cabin on most of its 25 CRJ-700 regional jets and will move them to its Chicago/O'Hare hub. Of course, competitive when it comes to first class on regional jets is a highly subjective affair, so wait until we get more details before looking for an upgrade.

American Airlines Sticks a Fork Into Two Dead Hubs
American Airlines says that it will further reduce service at two airports where it has already shuttered hub operations. In a fairly large shift of service to its current hubs (Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York/Kennedy, Miami and Los Angeles), American says that it will cut its St. Louis flights by more than 50 percent and end service to 20 destinations. After the cutback, American will be down to 36 flights from St. Louis to nine cities as compared to several hundred daily flights when it acquired the hub from TWA in 2001. And at Raleigh-Durham, a hub that American built and then abandoned a decade ago, three more cities and nine more departures will be cut. That'll reduce RDU to 44 daily flights to eight cities. Most of the service cut from St. Louis and Raleigh will be moved to Chicago, where American says it will add more than four dozen flights next year.

Southwest Will Ramp It Up at Denver--Again
Southwest Airlines was outbid this summer for bankrupt, Denver-based Frontier Airlines, but that's only convinced the 800-pound gorilla of alternate carriers to expand on its own. Beginning January 10, Southwest says that it will launch two daily flights between Denver and Boston/Logan; a daily flight from Denver to Spokane; and a daily flight from Denver to Reno/Tahoe. JetBlue Airways is shuffling its transcontinental routes and the big loser is San Jose, California. JetBlue will add new flights from San Francisco to Long Beach, Boston and Fort Lauderdale. It will even add an additional flight from San Francisco to its New York/Kennedy hub. But the airline will drop three of its four San Jose flights, cutting service there back to a single daily trip to Kennedy. AirTran Airways continues to add flights at Milwaukee and Baltimore/Washington. By next month, it will offer 36 flights a day to 19 cities from Milwaukee and 52 flights to 21 cities from BWI. AirTran is also continuing to build in the Caribbean, too. It is adding service to Aruba from Atlanta (on December 19) and Orlando (on February 13).

Priority Club Adds Flights to Its Reward Chart
Priority Club, the often-overlooked frequency program of InterContinental Hotels, has added a new award option: free flights using a third-party travel agency. The Flights Anywhere program allows Priority Club members to trade points for flights on virtually any airline without blackout dates. Prices are on the high side, of course. For complete details, surf here. Virgin Atlantic has joined the crowd of international carriers charging for a second checked bag. The fee is 32 British pounds or $48 if paid online. United Airlines continues to find new ways to sell the perks most other carriers offer only to their elite flyers. The Premier Travel plan sells a package of extras--Economy Plus seats, priority line access, admittance to the Red Carpet Club--on a flight-by-flight basis. Prices start at $47 a flight.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Spirit Airlines, masters of the hidden fee and crappy customer service, has done it again. They've been slapped with a record-high fine by the Department of Transportation for a laundry list of consumer abuses. The DOT penalized Spirit $375,000 for breaking the rules on denied-boarding compensation, fare advertising, baggage liability, disabled passengers and handling passenger complaints. Continental Airlines is adding three new international routes: Houston-Edmonton, Alberta, beginning on November 1; Guam-Nadi, Fiji, beginning on December 18; and Honolulu-Fiji, also on December 18. Mexicana has shifted its check-in operations at Los Angeles to the upper/departure level of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Hertz has signed up Andrews Car Rental, an agency in Sri Lanka, as its franchisee in the island's capital of Colombo.

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.