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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 4 TO 11, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli
· TSA: What Is Your Name? What Is Your Quest?
· AirTran Dumps Four Cities From New Schedule · New Hotels? Got 'Em. Reflagged Hotels? Got 'Em.
· FAA's Short-Term Extension Gets Short Extension
· A Diet Coke Code for Free WiFi on Delta Flights
· Air India Won't Join the Star Alliance After All
· Airlines Suck. Business Travel Stinks. Circa 1946.
What Is Your Name? What Is Your Quest? What Is the TSA Thinking?
Have you noticed that many TSA agents are awfully talky lately? It's not a coincidence. It's part of a new program that the TSA hopes will turn security screeners into BDOs, agency-speak for "behavior detection officer." BDOs engage in a "casual greeting conversation" with selected passengers in hopes of turning up a terrorist with bad verbal skills. But wait, there's more. Beginning this week at Boston's Logan Airport, all passengers using Terminal A are asked a series of inane questions at the checkpoint. Flyers are asked things like "Where are you traveling?" and "How long have you been in town?" But wait, there's still more. "We're not looking for the answers necessarily," explains George Naccara, federal security director at Logan. "We're gauging the reaction." The theory, says the TSA, is that the 30-second hazing somehow duplicates the deep departure interviews conducted by Israeli airport security agents. You can read the TSA's perspective here. And I've obtained exclusive video of the first day of questioning at Boston/Logan. View it here. Just remember: The capital of Assyria was Nineveh. No, it was Assur. No, it was …
AirTran Dumps Four Cities From Its New Schedule
Hot on the heels of last week's announcement that Southwest Airlines was downsizing in Philadelphia and would drop several other routes around the nation, Southwest's AirTran Airways subsidiary is trimming its route map, too. In January, AirTran is eliminating all service to Atlantic City; Asheville, North Carolina; Quad Cities airport in Illinois; and Newport News/Williamsburg in Virginia. … Sun Country Airlines was recently sold to new owners and now says it will launch flights from its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub to Liberia, Costa Rica. The weekly Boeing 737 service will operate from January 13 to April 13.
New Hotels? Got 'Em. Reflagged Hotels? Got 'Em.
It's impossible to find an overarching theme in this week's new hotel openings and reflaggings. So just get to the scorecard. Just leave a lot of room.
Marriott has opened two properties near the Alamo in San Antonio: a 118-room SpringHill Suites and a 99-room Fairfield Inn. It has also opened a 78-room Fairfield Inn near Tarpon Springs, Florida, and an 84-room Fairfield Inn in Capitola, California. Also new: the TownePlace Suites in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It has 81 rooms.
Sheraton has reflagged the 379-room former Holiday Inn in Stamford, Connecticut, and the 280-room former Renaissance Hotel in Agoura Hills, California.
Hilton has opened a 370-room resort overlooking the Red Sea in Cairo's Alam Nubian resort. It has also opened a 349-room property at the Qiandao Lake Resort in Hangzhou Province, China. And it has reflagged the 564-room former Sheraton in Bloomington, Minnesota, as a DoubleTree hotel.
Hyatt has opened a 314-room Grand Hyatt resort in Goa, India. The company already operates a Park Hyatt in Goa.
The FAA Gets A Short-Term Extension to Its Short-Term Extension
You think it's been weird lately in Congress? You ain't seen nothing yet. The Aviation Administration has been working without a budget since 2007 and kept operating only because of 20 short-term extensions. Then parts of the agency shut down late last month because the House and Senate couldn't agree on extension number 21. Senate Democrats wanted a "clean" continuing resolution, but House Republicans insisted on cuts to the Essential Air Service (EAS) and a change to a National Mediation Board ruling that has made it easier for unions to organize. The deadlock was broken late on Thursday (August 4) thanks to an even shorter-term extension that will only take the agency until September and doesn't even definitively address the EAS or the union issue. That means airline taxes will probably resume as early as the weekend. Among the big carriers, only Alaska Airlines had lowered its prices when the government lost the authority to collect fees. Most other carriers increased their prices by the exact amount of the suspended taxes. And despite IRS guidance saying that you deserve a refund of taxes you prepaid on flights since July 23, I'd be surprised if you get your money back now. Most carriers have been putting off flyers inquiring about refunds and even Delta, which claimed this week that it was prepared to refund the prepaid taxes, has yet to tell travelers how to apply for them.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines flyers take note: Using the code DIETCOKEGOGO will get you free Gogo in-flight WiFi service on Delta flights for the rest of August. … The American Eagle commuter division of American Airlines says it will begin daily service between Watertown, New York, and American's Chicago/O'Hare hub on November 17. Watertown is close to the U.S. Army base at Fort Drum. American says it will use 44-seat regional jets on the route. … It looks as if Air India won't be joining the Star Alliance after all. After almost four years of on-again, off-again preparation, Star says it has put Air India's entrance "on hold." … Speaking of the big alliances, Delta says it will begin code-sharing with Aerolineas Argentinas later this year and then offer frequent flyer program earn-and-burn benefits early in 2012. Aerolineas is due to join the SkyTeam alliance next year, too. … There has been a silver lining to the huge stock-price meltdown today (August 4) and the market's two-week losing streak: crude oil prices are plummeting. The price of a barrel of oil closed at $86 on New York markets today, down from just north of $100 less than a week ago.
Airlines Suck. Business Travel Stinks. The 1946 Edition.
You gotta love the Internet, especially when big publishing companies post their decades-old archives about travel issues. Here's a piece from Fortune magazine in 1946. The headline: What's Wrong With the Airlines. The gist: "To travel by plane, a passenger must now sacrifice his comfort, his sleep, and often his baggage. He must endure inconveniences that rise to the level of punishment."
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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.