By Joe Brancatelli

· Let's Get Small (Again): Airlines Keep Shrinking
· Independent Hotels Adding Major Brand Names
· New Southwest 'Service': $40 for A Boarding Slot
· New American Eagle Jets Get Main Cabin Extra
· No, the Dreamliner Batteries Didn't Overcharge
· Pearson Gets Two Massimo Capra Restaurants
· Will 'The Friendly Confines' Get Its Own Hotel?

Let's Get Small (Again): Airlines Continue to Shrink
We talked about how fast the airline system is shrinking back in August. It also explains why the carriers are filling more than 80 percent of the seats they continue to put in the air. But since travelers aren't exactly storming the boarding gates--air travel increased less than 1 percent during the first 10 months of 2012, says the U.S. government--most major carriers are cutting even more capacity. United Airlines expects its first-quarter operations will be 4-5 percent smaller compared to the first quarter of 2012. The largest cuts will come in transatlantic service, which will be down as much as 10 percent. Delta Air Lines says its first-quarter seat capacity will be as much as 4 percent below its 2012 levels. Its International flying will be down as much as 5 percent. American Airlines expects its first-quarter capacity to fall about 1.7 percent. The only legacy airline that will grow is US Airways. Because it is taking delivery of some larger aircraft later this year, US Airways expects its full-year 2013 system capacity to grow around 3 percent.

Important Independent Hotels Are Adding Major Brand Names
Airline branding might not mean much, something discussed in this week's Seat 2B column, but brand names clearly mean a lot in the hotel business. How else to explain the rush of independent properties joining well-known hotel chains? In San Antonio, for example, the 177-room Emily Morgan Hotel across from The Alamo has added the DoubleTree by Hilton moniker. So has The Morrison Hotel on the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin. Closed for renovation since November, the 138-room hotel is due to reopen next week. Meanwhile, the Peabody in Little Rock, the Arkansas branch of the famed Peabody in Memphis, shifted to Marriott. The 414-room hotel on West Markham Street is slated for a $16 million renovation. In Lincoln, Nebraska, the 297-room Cornhusker is also a Marriott now. It's the second time around for Marriott and the hotel; they had split about 18 months ago. And Marriott's Autograph Collection will add the 130-room Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa. The Blackhawk reopened with a snappy renovation in 2010 after years of decay and will add the Autograph affiliation on March 6.

Southwest Invents a New 'Service': $40 for an A-Level Boarding Slot
Southwest Airlines already sells slots in its coveted A boarding group as part of its top-priced Business Select Fares. But when there aren't enough flyers to fill out the 15-passenger A group, Southwest says you can now buy your way into any remaining slots at the gate. The fee: $40. The "service" will only be available at the gate 45 minutes before departure when an agent announces slots for sale. In other news, Southwest said today (January 24) that 2012 was its 40th consecutive year of profit. The airline also says 400 of its aircraft are now wired with Row 44 brand in-flight WiFi and that 259 of its planes have the new "Evolve" seating arrangement. That's the one that squeezes more seats onto each Boeing 737 and cuts legroom, too.

New American Eagle Jets Will Get a Premium Economy Section
Bankrupt American Airlines and Republic Airways, the big commuter carrier that also owns Frontier Airlines, have cut a new deal. Republic will do more flying as American Eagle and will also bring along a fleet of 53 Embraer E175 jets. The first of the new aircraft will appear in American Eagle colors in June. They will be configured with 12 first-class seats and 64 seats down the back. At least 20 of those coach seats will be American's Main Cabin Extra premium-economy service. It'll be the first premium economy in American's commuter fleet. No routes have been announced and it'll be interesting to see how many of the E175s replace American's aging traditional jets and how many displace smaller regional aircraft. Separately, American says that it has completed the retrofit of its Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 fleets and they now all offer Main Cabin Extra service. About half of American's Boeing 737s now have Main Cabin Extra, too. The airline says its fleet of MD-80s will be equipped by the end of the second quarter.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
All the amateur aeronautic engineers and talking-head experts were wrong. The troublesome lithium-ion batteries that have been causing problems on the now-grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliner were not overcharging. Both U.S. and Japanese regulators have specifically ruled out overcharging, in fact. And the National Transportation Safety Administration said late today (January 24) the battery that caught fire on a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston/Logan experienced a short circuit. It also experienced a "thermal runaway," jargon for batteries that overheat. ... Toronto flyers take note: Well-known Toronto chef and TV personality Massimo Capra is fronting two new Italian eateries at Pearson International. Boccone Trattoria is in the Terminal 1 departure area and Boccone Pronto is in the US-transborder departure area of Terminal 1. ... US Airways and Virgin Atlantic are parting ways as frequent flyer program partners. Earn and burn privileges end June 11.

Will 'The Friendly Confines' Get Its Own Hotel?
Here's a warm(ish) thought for a cold January weekend: The new(ish) owners of the Chicago Cubs say that they will build a Sheraton on land they own across the street from Wrigley Field. At the moment, there's a McDonald's restaurant and a parking lot on the property, located at the corners of Clark and Addison streets. The hotel is part of a renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley Field that the owners want the city of Chicago to help finance. In other words, expect to see the hotel around the time the Cubs finally win a World Series. (A note to non-baseball fans: The last time that the Cubs won the Series was 1908. A note to Cubs fans: I'm a Cleveland Indians fan, which is like being a Cubs fan without the panache. So don't send me any whiny E-mail. I got my own pain.)

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 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.