By Joe Brancatelli

· And Now for the Virgin Atlantic Strike Watch
· Avis Buys Avis, So Maybe Hertz Gets Dollar Thrifty
· Ashes to Ashes in Australia, New Zealand, Africa
· Dodging Bullets When Airline Computers Collapse
· New Airline Links Chicago and Northern Michigan
· British Airways Will Serve English Sparkling Wine
· Eighty Days Living at an Airport … By Choice

And Now for the Virgin Atlantic Strike Watch
British Airways and its cabin-crew union this week definitively buried the two-year dispute that caused more than 20 days of strikes and endless confusion over BA's operations. And with annoying karmic balance, business travelers now have to shift their attention to a potential strike by pilots at Virgin Atlantic. After months of fruitless contract negotiations, 97 percent of Virgin's pilots have voted to strike. Under British labor rules, the pilots must give at least seven days notice before beginning a work stoppage and must launch a strike by July 19. Chances of a settlement before a strike? Not too great, if you read the signals coming from both sides of the dispute. Despite the fawning media attention paid to Virgin boss Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic is a mess. The carrier's fleet is aging, it hasn't joined a major airline alliances, its 49 percent shareholder, Singapore Airlines, is desperate to dump its stake, and Branson is shopping all or part of his remaining holdings. Needless to say, it's not too soon to start booking alternatives.

Avis Buys Avis, So Maybe Hertz Gets Dollar Thrifty
The year-long saga that has pitted Hertz against the Avis Budget group in a battle to buy Dollar Thrifty took another strange turn this week. Avis bought Avis. More specifically, U.S.-based Avis Budget Group agreed to buy Avis Europe for about $1 billion. Although they mostly operated as a global marketing entity, the two Avises had been independent companies for a generation. The U.S. Avis admits that its buy of Avis Europe essentially ends its quest to acquire Dollar Thrifty. "While Avis Budget will continue to monitor Dollar Thrifty, the focus will be on completing and integrating the significant acquisition of Avis Europe." That would seem to clear the field for Hertz to buy Dollar Thrifty, an acquisition it has pursued since the spring of 2010. Hertz's initial $1.27 billion bid ran into a higher offer from Avis Budget, but a potential merger of four rental firms ran afoul of regulators. After walking away from Dollar Thrifty late last year, Hertz jumped back in last month with a new $2.24 billion offer.

Ashes to Ashes in Australia as the Cloud Hangs Around
That pesky Puyehue volcano in Chile continues to throw off all sorts of ash and that is playing havoc with flights in the Southern Hemisphere. The winds have pushed the ash clouds out of the way of South American aviation, but Australia and New Zealand have had a very tough week. Virtually every major airport in Australia has been closed at some time this week. All major airlines--Qantas and its Jetstar subsidiary, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand--have seriously delayed or cancelled flights throughout the week. For Friday (June 24), it looks as if trans-Tasman flights are most severely affected. Meanwhile, a volcanic eruption in Eritrea this week has slowed travel in Africa. … Malaysia Airlines says it will join the Oneworld Alliance next year. Its closest rival, Singapore Airlines, is part of the Star Alliance. … A new pay-per-visit lounge called the VIP Wing has opened in Terminal 1 at Munich Airport.

Dodging Bullets When Airline Computers Melt Down
Last Friday night's computer outage at United Airlines caused dozens of cancellations and hundreds of "severe" (longer than 45 minutes) delays. It also fouled up United's schedule over the weekend as the carrier registered higher-than-usual cancellations and delays. But disasters were rare and very few JoeSentMe members reported any big problems. In fact, if anything, more of you were inconvenienced by the storms on the East Coast that preceded the computer meltdown. Meanwhile, US Airways suffered two outages last weekend, one on Friday (June 17) at its Philadelphia hub and one on Sunday (June 19) at its Charlotte hub. It's the third US Airways meltdown this month. The carrier suffered an outage due to a power failure in Phoenix on June 10. Of course, the big issue is why airlines, which are totally dependent on computers to run every phase of their operations, don't seem to have backup or redundant systems. None of them want to answer that question.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
How about this: a new airline. Sort of. Lakeshore Express, a public-charter carrier, says it will launch flights between Chicago/Midway and Pellston, an airport that serves Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The flights, due to begin in July, are being marketed to Chicagoans with summer homes on the Peninsula and other areas of Northern Michigan. The Web site is here. … Spirit Airlines has invented another new fee: $5 a segment if one of its airport agents (good luck finding one) prints your boarding pass. … The Federal Aviation Administration wants to fine United Airlines nearly $600,000 for failing to perform required drug and alcohol testing on 13 employees working in safety posts. The FAA also is unhappy with how United does random testing on its flight crews. … British Airways says that it will serve an English sparkling wine, Balfour Brut Rose, in its lounge at London/Heathrow and to first-class customers between July and September.

Eighty Days at an Airport…By Choice
I don't usually pay much attention to travel-industry gimmicks, but I have to admit I like this one: Vancouver Airport is looking for someone who's willing to live at the airport for 80 days and nights and blog about it. Before you go rushing off to apply, however, be warned: You have to be a Canadian citizen and live in British Columbia. The "assignment" starts on August 17 and you can read all about it here. If you "win" the contest, you are apparently on the hook for your own post-experience shrink.

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 © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.