By Joe Brancatelli

· DOT Tries to Level the Playing Field for Flyers
· Delta Ends Redemption Fees for SkyMiles Awards
· Facts Contradict Blather About Fares and Demand
· Frontier Lowers or Eliminates Some Annoying Fees
· Alitalia Launches a Premium Economy Class
· Do You Want Free Underwear From an Airline?
· Oh, Canada! Tim Hortons Plans a Big Expansion

The DOT Tries to Level the Playing Field for Passengers
The Department of Transportation rolled out another series of passenger protections this week that could become effective as early as the fall. Here's a quick summary and we'll talk more about the details in coming weeks.
    + Denied boarding compensation increases to $650 if you are delayed two hours and $800 if you are delayed four hours. If you are bumped from an international flight and arrive four hours late, the penalty is $1,300. The airline also must pay if you are bumped when you are using a frequent flyer award or other "zero fare" ticket.
    + Airlines must allow you to change or cancel a reservation within the first 24 hours after you book it--or allow you to hold a reservation without charge for 24 hours.
    + You will be allowed to sue an airline anywhere the carrier does business, including where you live or purchased your ticket.
    + Airlines will be required to include information about your baggage allowance and any baggage fees with any ticket confirmation.
    + The DOT's full-fare advertising rules will be tightened and carriers will be required to include any mandatory fees and taxes as part of the advertised price. Airlines will also be barred from advertising one-way fares if the fare is only available on a roundtrip basis. "Advertisement" also apparently includes how airlines display fares on their own Web sites.

Delta Dumps Redemption Fees for Frequent Flyer Awards
Here's something I bet you didn't expect: Effective immediately, Delta Air Lines has eliminated the annoying redemption fees for SkyMiles awards claimed within 21 days of departure. The fees ranged as high as $150 for tickets booked within three days. Why roll back the fees? Delta insiders say the strange new world of frequent flyer accounting actually makes it beneficial to the airline when travelers claim awards. Moreover, customers who successfully claim awards are more likely to continue to book Delta, thus creating more revenue than the fees generated. It's also quite possible that Delta is making more seats available at the last minute than far in advance, so keep trying if you are shut out on your initial pass. But nothing is totally free of bad news, of course. While it drops redemption fees, Delta has hiked the charge it imposes if you redeposit miles to $150. Frontier Airlines is also dumping some fees. It will no longer charge $25 if you buy tickets at the airport or through the airline's call center. The airline has also lowered its change fee to $50 from $100. One other new perk: flyers traveling on full-fare "Classic Plus" fares now receive access to the airline's club at its Milwaukee hub.

The Facts Contradict the Blather About Fares and Demand
Here are the two general-media memes of the last few weeks: Airfares are soaring and global premium-class demand has recovered. Wrong and wrong. According to the most recent data from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, fares in the fourth quarter of 2009 were the lowest since 2006. Have fares been rising since then? Of course, but against such a low base that it's hard to generalize. So that makes Continental's approximately 25 percent increase in revenue per available seat mile in May compared to May of 2009 less than the startling run-up it seems. As for premium-class demand, IATA, the global trade group, says up front bookings rose 7.6 percent in the first quarter compared to last year. Impressive, eh? But not if you look at the patterns. Last year, premium-class demand was down 16, 21 and 9 percent compared to the same months in the first quarter of 2008. In other words, traffic up front is still far below 2008 levels. Let's move on now.

Alitalia Adds a Premium Class, Doesn't Tell Anyone
To the surprise of no one, Alitalia is doing something without telling anyone. The Italian carrier is adding the so-called Classica Plus premium economy class on its new Airbus A330s. That means you'll find it on flights from New York and Miami late this summer. Details are here. Lan Peru begins flights between San Francisco and Lima, Peru, on July 1. The airline will use two-class Boeing 767-300s on the route. Vietnam Airlines joins the SkyTeam Alliance on June 10. Boy, that sure makes me want to fly SkyTeam.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Seen those awful Hanes commercials set aboard an airplane where Michael Jordan and some annoying passengers talk about "bacon neck" T-shirts? Well, it gets worse. Hanes and JetBlue Airways are now giving away supposed "lay-flat" collar shirts on the carrier's eastbound overnight coast-to-coast flights with Shut-Eye service. The promotion runs through June. Am I the only one who doesn't want underwear from airlines? The Transportation Department has fined both AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines for advertising fares without disclosing the full price travelers must pay. AirTran was fined $20,000 for low-balling fares during a sale and Delta got whacked for $40,000 for omitting taxes and fees from its Web site displays. Alamo, Enterprise and National, the three car-rental firms owned by Enterprise Holdings, will offer a video toll pass program for renters in Northern California, Colorado, Florida and Texas. The optional program, which will cost as much as $6 a rental plus tolls, begins in August.

Oh, Canada! Tim Hortons Plans a Big Expansion
Tim Hortons, the iconic Canadian doughnut shop named after the late hockey player, is making a play for international prominence. The chain already has about 3,000 shops in Canada and about 500 in the United States. There are also several hundred Tim Hortons kiosks in convenience stores in England and Ireland. But within the next three years, Tim Hortons executives say they plan to add 300 more shops in the United States and 600 more elsewhere in North America. So get ready to order double doubles (that's coffee with two creams and two sugars) and timbits (the equivalent of Dunkin' Donuts munchkins) and learn to roll up the rim.

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.