By Joe Brancatelli

· Lufthansa's New Business Class Goes Fully Flat
· Marriott Has Another New Brand: Gaylord Hotels
· Alaska Airlines Adds Two More Long-Haul Routes
· JetBlue Adding Overseas Arrivals Facility at JFK
· It Just Gets Weirder and Nastier at United Airlines
· Cathay Pacific Joins Amex Membership Rewards
· Saudi Arabian Airlines Quietly Joins SkyTeam

Lufthansa's New Business Class: Fully Flat and a Little Late
Well behind major competitors, Lufthansa rolled out a new business-class cabin in recent days and there's good news: The new seat-beds are a big improvement over its current business-class product. Now available on the A330s flying Munich-Washington/Dulles and on the new Boeing 747-800 series jets that operate on the Frankfurt-Dulles run, Lufthansa's new cabin is visually arresting for what it doesn't have: the bright yellows and blues that are the trademark colors of the German carrier. The new cabin is outfitted in grays, muted blues and tans. The new seats convert into fully flat beds that are 78 inches long and as wide as 26 inches when the armrests are lowered. Each chair also offers a 15-inch video monitor, in-seat power and USB ports and a clever storage area for the hard-wired headphones. The seat pairs--configured 2x2 or 2x2x2--do have downsides: They are positioned in a V shape, useful for talking to a seatmate, but a little too intimate if you're flying with a stranger. Another negative: While there's decent shoulder room, Lufthansa has saved space by making the foot end of the bed extremely narrow and the only separation from your seatmate's feet is a flimsy plastic divider. You can see more of the new seats here. It'll take up to four years to retrofit Lufthansa's huge business-class inventory with the new product. The airline will also be taking delivery of five of the new Boeing 787-800 widebodies each year.

Marriott Has Another New Brand: Gaylord Hotels
Gaylord Entertainment, which operates the Grand Ole Opry and convention hotels near Nashville, Orlando, Washington and Dallas, is getting out of the hotel business. Well, the hotel-management business at least. The company is spinning off the management of the four Gaylord hotels to Marriott and giving Marriott the right to build out the Gaylord brand. The deal should be completed by the third quarter. ... Turnberry Isle, the 408-room property in Aventura, Florida, has joined Marriott's Autograph Collection of independent hotels. ... Hyatt has opened (or reopened) its third property in New Orleans in the last year. The 254-room Hyatt French Quarter on Iberville Street underwent an $18 million renovation. ... DoubleTree by Hilton has converted two more hotels: a 204-room former Radisson near Tucson Airport and a 251-room former Hilton Garden Inn in downtown St. Paul. ... InterContinental Hotels has added two more properties: Its Crowne Plaza brand converted a 207-room hotel near the Houston Galleria Mall that had been operating as Ramada Plaza and a new 83-room Holiday Inn Express in Lafayette, Indiana.

Alaska Airlines Adds Two More Long-Haul Routes
People are going to have to stop calling Alaska Airlines an interesting little airline that flies short-haul routes around the West. While other supposedly "full-service" carriers shrink, Alaska is rapidly picking up long-haul routes. Beginning October 11, it'll fly nonstop five times a week between Orlando and San Diego. It'll also add a seasonal route on November 5 between Portland, Oregon, and Lihue, Kauai. And speaking of Portland, Alaska's previously announced new nonstop between Washington/National and the Rose City will launch on August 28. ... Speaking of Hawaii, Mokulele Airlines resumes service from Honolulu to Kapalua/West Maui Airport beginning on July 1. There'll be two daily flights using (yikes!) 9-seat aircraft. ... Speaking of service resumptions, Southwest Airlines says it'll restore nonstop flying between Dallas/Love Field and Harlingen, Texas, on November 4. Southwest hasn't flown that route in nearly 30 years. ... I told you last month that JetBlue Airways had a growing international presence thanks to a wide variety of deals with international airlines. Now the other shoe is dropping: JetBlue has won approval to build an international arrivals facility at its terminal at its New York/Kennedy hub. Besides allowing JetBlue's own Caribbean flights to arrive at Terminal 5, it'll mean some of its international partners could conceivably move into the JetBlue terminal, too. Of course, it'll take as long as four years to finish construction on the three-level, 145,000-square-foot expansion.

It Just Gets Weirder and Nastier at United Airlines
Suffering from slowing traffic, weak sales, a huge first-quarter loss and its miserable reputation, United Airlines is being forced to slash operations at Houston's Intercontinental Airport, its largest hub. United says it'll cut 1,300 jobs in Houston, formerly headquarters of Continental Airlines, and trim "planned capacity " by 10 percent. The airline wasn't clear on whether the flight cuts would be on not-yet-launched flights or existing service, but one confirmed casualty is the Houston-Auckland route that was due to launch when United got its first Boeing 787 Dreamliners. United didn't just make the cuts, of course, it felt compelled to make the patently absurd claim that it was forced to contract because the city of Houston approved a five-gate international complex at Southwest Airlines' hub at Houston/Hobby Airport. That facility won't even be open for at least four years and Southwest certainly won't be flying from Hobby to New Zealand, but what does logic mean to United, where executives blame everyone but themselves for the carrier's dreary operations? ... As I predicted in March, United is now trying to bribe its way out of its woes. The new "Outperform Recognition Program" awards prizes and cash to employees who give outstanding service and the frequent flyers who nominate them. Top prize is $50,000. ... Speaking of that abandoned IAH-Auckland route, the Dreamliners originally planned for the service will be moved to a new run. United says it'll launch Denver-Tokyo/Narita nonstops on March 31. ... And this (literally) just in: Chris McGinnis, who operates the Bay Area Traveler blog, says that United has abruptly moved some flights to SFO Terminal 1. United hasn't announced the change and it has no facilities at Terminal 1. That puts passengers through a unique kind of transit hell. Read Chris' full report here.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Express cardholders take note: Cathay Pacific has joined the Membership Rewards plan. You can now transfer Amex points to Cathay's AirMiles program. ... JetBlue Airways has moved its San Juan departures to Terminal A from Terminal C. Arriving flights still use Terminal C, however. ... Air France is now using the Airbus A380 on one of its daily Los Angeles-Paris flights. The other LAX-CDG flight will continue to use a Boeing 777. ... You don't hear this often: Japan Airlines will add first-class cabins to its Tokyo/Haneda-Okinawa flights and introduce first on additional routes to Fukuoka and Sapporo. ... Ritz-Carlton reopened its hotel in Montreal after a $200 million restoration. ... United Airlines is dumping Qatar Airways as a partner in MileagePlus. Claim your awards on the Doha-based carrier by June 15.

Anyone Know the Patron Saint of SkyTeam?
It caused a gigantic furor when it was first announced last year, but Saudi Arabian Airlines officially joined the SkyTeam Alliance last week. Not a murmur of protest was heard, mostly because WND.com, the loony right-wing site that started the controversy, is back on the Obama birther beat. It has also premiered its new weekly series called "Stories of the Saints." That's not a joke.

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 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.