By Joe Brancatelli

· Airline War Against Passenger's Rights Begins
· More Free Internet for Marriott Rewards Elites
· Cincinnati to Delta: We're Not a Dead Hub Yet
· Frontier and Midwest Will Soon Cease to Exist!
· Private Branson Airport Starts Its Own Airline
· US Airways Fined for Fare-Display Violations
· Passengers Keep Flying in Context in Canada

The Airline War Against Passenger's Rights Begins
When the Transportation Department "ended" the debate over passenger's rights by creating new regulations that would slam airlines with huge fines if they held travelers hostage on planes for more than three hours, only the most credulous observers expected the carriers to capitulate. Now the counter-attack has begun, more than a month before the DOT rules actually go into effect on April 29. Citing the four-month closure of the main runway at New York's Kennedy Airport on March 1, JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines want a waiver of the tarmac-hold rules at JFK until December. The insane logic: The runway closure might gridlock Kennedy and cause the long tarmac holds that the DOT wants to stop and passengers despise. It also ignores a key part of the new regulations, which allows the rules to be waived if air traffic controllers decide returning planes to the gate would jeopardize airport operations. But the ultimate refutation of the airlines' claims that they need relief at JFK comes from David Barger, who just happens to be JetBlue's president and chief executive. While JetBlue was making its application for a waiver, Barger boasted to an airline-investment conference that he was "very encouraged" by JetBlue's performance at JFK since the runway closure. In fact, he claimed JetBlue's on-time arrival rate at JFK was 82 percent during the first eight days after March 1.

More Free Internet for Marriott Rewards Elites
Matching the benefit offered to some elite members of other hotel frequent guest programs, gold and platinum members of Marriott Rewards now receive free in-room Internet. But the new perk is limited to Marriott, JW Marriott and Renaissance hotels in the continental United States and Canada. Ritz-Carlton properties and Marriott's growing collection of hotels and resorts in Hawaii will still ding elites for upwards of $15 a day. … The Blue, a 240-unit condo resort in Doral, a few minutes from Miami International Airport, is rebranding itself as the Hyatt Miami at The Blue. … Speaking of Florida, a 114-room Candlewood Suites has opened in Tallahassee. … A 102-room Homewood Suites by Hilton has opened in Bozeman, Montana.

Cincinnati to Delta: We're Not Dead Yet
Delta Air Lines has been slashing and burning its hub in Cincinnati for years. Once offering more than 400 flights a day, Cincinnati's service has plummeted to about 160 a day. But Delta is apparently rethinking at least some of its cuts. Two routes being reinstated: Flights to San Antonio, cut last year, resume in early May, and service to Austin, killed in December, 2008, returns in June. … The new, privately owned airport in Branson, Missouri, has been spectacularly ineffective attracting existing carriers to launch flights there. AirTran is currently alone, although Frontier launches some flights next month. So what's a privately run airport to do? Start its own airline, of course. The airport and a local travel agency will launch a public-charter carrier called Branson Air Express. It'll operate a pair of 50-seat regional jets beginning in May and fly to Austin, Des Moines, Houston, Shreveport and Terre Haute. … The Palm, a New York steak joint that has, er, staked out a nationwide presence, has come full circle. It has opened a branch of the chain in Terminal 4 of New York/Kennedy Airport.

Surprise! Frontier and Midwest Will Soon Cease to Exist! (Probably)
Remember when a previously little-known regional carrier called Republic last year snapped up Denver-based Frontier Airlines and Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines? And remember savvy observers (er, me…) suggesting that it would be insane for a holding company to operate a two-class airline like Midwest alongside an all-coach carrier like Frontier? In the intervening months, Republic has mixed and matched aircraft and crew from the two jet carriers and its own regional airlines. Now it's hard to tell where the airlines begin and end and what each carrier offers. And Republic has decided that both the Frontier and Midwest names will soon disappear (probably). "We will get to a unified brand," says Republic chairman Bryan Bedford, who said the carrier will soon announce a "unified brand plan." But Bedford is cryptic: "That's different than saying we're going to pick one or the other and keep one and lose one. We need to work in a path of fusing these brands [to] retain as much customer loyalty as we can." Meanwhile, Midwest in May will add flights to Columbus and New Orleans from its small Kansas City hub. And Frontier is adding flights from Denver to seven cities: Branson; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Green Bay and Madison, Wisconsin; Long Beach and Santa Barbara, California; and Newport News, Virginia. The new service will be phased in between late April and June. The added cities have one thing in common: None have flights from Denver by Southwest Airlines, which is shaping up as a major competitor to Frontier in the Mile High market.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The stagnation of the nation's air-travel market was confirmed again this week by the Federal Aviation Administration. Back in 1997, the FAA reported that 599 million Americans flew. Twelve years later, only 631 million people flew. And the supposedly magic one billion number is now not expected to be reached until 2023. That's two years later than the FAA forecast last year--and seven years later than its 2008 prediction, which was issued before markets collapsed in the fall of 2008. … The Transportation Department fined US Airways $40,000 for another glitch on its Web site. Once again, USAirways.com was not displaying the full price of an airline ticket. US Airways claims the error was brief, quickly corrected and caused by a programming error. … Maybe the second time's the charm: After losing his first candidate for TSA Administrator due to Republican intransigence in the Senate and the candidate's own missteps, President Barack Obama has named Major General Robert Harding to the post. The 62-year-old Harding is supposedly an intelligence expert with 30 years of experience.

They Might Hold Up a Flight For Another Beer, Too, Eh?
On February 28, Air Canada was required to delay a flight from Vancouver when passengers ignored repeated announcements to board the aircraft. "We incurred a flight delay for a reason Air Canada had not yet encountered in over 72 years of existence," said Calin Rovinescu, the airline's chief executive. Why did passengers refuse to board? They were watching the end of the Olympics gold medal hockey game on airport TV screens. Canada beat the United States 3-2 in overtime.

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.