By Joe Brancatelli

· BA Plays Kick-the-Can With Its Big Labor Problem
· About That Botched Lufthansa Ticket Auction…
· The Last Burst of Hotel Openings for the Year
· Shuffled Terminals at Washington/National
· Delta and Singapore Air Cut Frequent Flyer Ties
· United Adds Commuter Service in Smaller Markets
· McDonald's Switches to Free WiFi Next Month

BA Plays Kick-the-Can With Its Big Labor Problem
More than 90 percent of British Airways' flight attendants voted to strike for 12 days over the holidays, but BA dodged a bullet today (December 17) when a London court decided the union's ballot may have counted a few votes from staffers who recently left the airline, been laid off or already accepted a buyout. As a result, the strike is off--at least for now. The union will have to conduct another vote, which means the earliest a strike can be held is late January. And a confrontation seems inevitable because BA chief executive Willie Walsh has been particularly confrontational in defense of the airline's recent unilateral decision to change work rules and reduce in-flight staffing levels. Besides, there's little doubt that the union is incensed and eager to strike. It polled about 12,000 members and even BA only claimed "hundreds of staff" have been incorrectly included. Negotiations--if you can call them that--have been sporadic. And if you think London is out of the woods for the holidays, forget it. Baggage handlers and check-in staff at Heathrow airport are planning a series of 48-hour strikes against their employer, SAS Ground Services. That won't affect any British or U.S. carriers operating at Heathrow, but could foul up the holidays for flyers on Turkish, Emirates and Thai airlines. One other potential London holiday strike: British Eurostar train drivers.

Okay, About That Botched Lufthansa Online Ticket Auction…
There are a lot of red faces at Lufthansa--and it's not because of the chilly, snowy weather in Europe this week. The German airline's online auction of seats last week turned into an embarrassment when a series of mishaps locked most U.S. travelers out of the bidding. Early in the process, the servers quickly overloaded and a Lufthansa functionary decided not to let others travelers log in and participate. Many who successfully logged in never found the auction they desired because appropriate links were never posted. Lufthansa said about 12,000 travelers were able to get through, but the problems meant that it only auctioned off about half of the 72 flights in the inventory. "This was definitely not a good example of Lufthansa's work," one of the airline's executives told me. "No one is happy about it and we apologize." The airline says anyone who managed to log in for the auction will receive a discount promo code in the next few days as a tangible express of the carrier's regret.

The Last Burst of Hotel Openings for the Year
A record-awful year for the hotel industry will end pretty much as it began and continued throughout 2009. In other words, more hotel openings even though room rates and hotel occupancies have plunged during the year. Here's what is new: A 100-room Hyatt Regency on Herolds Bay in George, South Africa, and a 166-room Taj Hotel on St. George's Mall in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa. … In the Maldives, a 160-room Holiday Inn has opened on Kandooma Island. … Finally, Pan Pacific has taken over the 484-room landmark hotel in Suzhou, the canal city not far from Shanghai. The property, best known for its traditional gardens, had been a Sheraton hotel and is being upgraded to meet Pan Pacific standards.

Watch Out for Shuffled Terminals at Washington/National
The ongoing combination of Delta Air Lines and former Northwest Airlines facilities at airports around the country is now shaking up familiar patterns at Washington/National. All Delta and Northwest flights, including commuter service, now operate from Terminal B. Continental and Alaska airlines also operate from Terminal B. To make room, Air Canada has moved to Terminal A. Frontier and Midwest airlines, now owned by the same parent company, have moved into Terminal A, too. They join AirTran, Midwest and Spirit airlines. … US Airways is returning to Melbourne, Florida, after a 12-year hiatus. It launches three daily 70-seat flights from its Charlotte hub on February 11. … United Airlines is expanding to some smaller markets. Don't get too excited, though. The expansion is with 50-seat regional jets. From its Chicago/O'Hare hub, United Express will begin flying February 11 to Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Hancock/Houghton and Muskegon, Michigan; and Paducah, Kentucky.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines and Singapore Airlines are cutting their frequent flyer program ties. The last day to earn Delta SkyMiles on Singapore flights is May 14. … Here's some good news: McDonald's will offer free WiFi service in most of its restaurants beginning next month. It has been charging $2.95 for two hours of access. … Say goodbye to Flyglobespan, which stopped flying earlier this week after going into the British equivalent of bankruptcy. It is best known in the United States as the airline that stranded a planeload of passengers in New York for almost a week because it refused to give them passage on other carriers during a flight disruption. … Speaking of New York, Lincoln Center will open a day-of-performance cut-price ticket operation on January 7. Tickets to the complex's 12 arts organizations will be available for as much as 50 percent off. There are more details here. … The Boeing 787 Dreamliner flew for the first time this week. The aircraft is about two years behind its production schedule. … Continental Airlines says it will test both the paid GoGo in-flight WiFi service and a free E-mail messaging system beginning in the second quarter of 2010.

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.