By Joe Brancatelli

· American Airlines Is Now Worst of the Worst
· Starwood Loses Most of Its Israel Hotels
· It's Been a Busy Few Weeks at the Airports
· Continental Tests Two Types of In-Flight WiFi
· Amex Membership Miles Are Now Valid on BA
· India Tightens Its Visa Rules for Visitors
· Duck the Excess-Bag Fees, Lose Your Job

American Airlines Is Now Worst of the Worst
As we enter 2010, it's fair to say that we have a new nation's "worst" carrier: American Airlines. For several years, it was easy to rest that dubious mantle on the two usual suspects: United Airlines or US Airways. But American's deterioration has been so rapid and widespread in the last few years that it has moved to the unenviable bottom rung. On the basic stuff, American is worst among the nine largest airlines for on-time performance (75.7 percent in 2009, according to FlightStats.com) and bag-handling efficiency (according to Department of Transportation statistics for the first 11 months of 2009). And that's not an anomaly: American has been at or near the bottom of those two categories since the middle of the decade. So what's new? After three troublesome landings in the month of December (in Kingston, Jamaica; Austin; and Charlotte), the Federal Aviation Administration says that it is upping its scrutiny of American to see if the problems "might be indicative of a larger issue." And the FAA and American were already locking horns over the carrier's questionable maintenance and repair practices.

Starwood Loses (or Drops) Most of Its Israel Properties
The exact circumstances are a little unclear, but most Starwood Hotels in Israel are no more. In recent weeks, almost a dozen properties have dumped (or lost) the Sheraton affiliation and switched to the Leonardo brand. The remaining Starwood properties--the Sheraton on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv and the Le Méridien hotels in Eilat and on the Dead Sea--are expected to go soon. None of the properties won raves from travelers, but they were popular redemption spots for Starwood Preferred Guest points. … Two notable conversions: InterContinental has taken over the 55-room former Crowne Plaza in Paris at 64 Avenue Marceau. Meanwhile, Crowne Plaza has taken over the 350-room Avenue hotel on East Huron Street in Chicago.

What's Happened While We Were Gone
While our attention was diverted by the holidays and the terrorism chaos, a lot of airport-related news came in over the metaphoric transom. Ready for the full report? We'll go fast to make it hurt less. Two hotels at or near Chicago/O'Hare have closed. The Wyndham O'Hare at Rosemont closed its doors on December 31. And in Arlington Heights, the Sheraton Chicago Northwest bit the dust on the same day. Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International, long-term parking lot B at 111th and LaCienega has closed its doors, er, gates. … What's new? Southwest Airlines says it will fly into the new Northwest Florida Beaches Airport in Panama City when it opens in May. The privately owned airport will have Southwest service to Nashville, Baltimore/Washington, Houston/Hobby and Orlando. … What's back? AirTran Airways service to Gulfport-Biloxi. AirTran returned to the airport this week with flights from Atlanta and Tampa. … What's moving? OpenSkies, the boutique British Airways carrier that flies to Paris/Orly, is shifting all its flights to Newark. Flights to New York/Kennedy ended this week.

Continental Will Test Two Types of In-Flight WiFi Service
Continental Airlines was the last major U.S. holdout in the in-flight WiFi sweepstakes and it turns out the carrier still hasn't figured out which of the available services, if any, actually make sense for travelers or its bottom line. Continental's solution? Test two. By the second quarter, it will test Aircell's GoGo WiFi system on 21 Boeing 757-300s. It will also add an E-mail service called Kiteline to all its Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft equipped with LiveTV. The Kiteline service will be free; the GoGo service is priced by AirCell and its current tariffs start at $4.95 an hour. … AT&T has added WiFi service at Tulsa airport. Prices start at $7.99 for 24 hours for travelers who don't have access through an AT&T subscription or Boingo.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Express cardholders take note: Membership Rewards points can now be transferred to BA Executive Club accounts. … Legacy carriers raised fares by $6-$10 roundtrip over the New Year's Day holiday. … India travelers take note: Multiple-entry tourist visas are now restricted. Travelers are no longer permitted to enter India within two months of their last departure. Check with the American consulate for exceptions and alternate arrangements. … Say goodbye to Air Comet. The Spanish carrier collapsed just before Christmas. … Pillows and blankets have disappeared on most Southwest Airlines flights. The carrier says it is because of H1N1 virus concerns. … November was a record month for airline efficiency. According to Transportation Department statistics released today (January 7), the nation's 19 largest carriers racked up an 88.6 percent on-time rating, the highest since the DOT began collecting data in 1995. The airlines also set a record for lowest rate of mishandled bags in November.

He Probably Didn't Pay the Seat-Assignment Fee, Either…
The chairman of Thai Airways has resigned after a scandal that destroyed his credibility. Wallop Bhukkanasut's offense? He didn't pay more than $6,000 in excess baggage fees on more than 40 suitcases he and his wife brought to Bangkok on a recent Thai Air flight from Tokyo.

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 © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.