By Joe Brancatelli

· A Tower of Babel on PED Use Below 10,000 Feet
· United and Delta Race to Bottom of Award Charts
· Frontier Expands Again in Wilmington and Trenton
· Marriott Instantly Doubles Its Presence in Africa
· Starwood Gains a Few Hotels, Loses a Few Hotels
· Gold-Level American Elites Retain a Small Perk
· Changes from the Official Airline of Oliver Twist

An In-Flight Tower of Babel on PED Use Below 10,000 Feet
It's taken just nine days for the skies to become an in-flight Tower of Babel thanks to the FAA's kick-the-can decision on the use of personal electronic devices (PED) below 10,000 feet. Since the FAA required each airline to get every type of aircraft it flies certified for PED use, this week has been chaotic as carriers rush to comply. Here is the list of airlines that now allow "gate-to-gate" PED use and their particular caveats. And please remember: No laptops because the FAA considers them potential projectiles. No WiFi because airlines either don't have it or the existing WiFi service doesn't function below 10,000 feet. No international flights since this is currently a U.S.-only initiative. The device you are permitted to use--smartphones, E-book readers, tablets, music players, games--must operate in "airplane" mode. And, of course, no voice calling.
    Alaska Airlines allows PED use on its full-size jets. No PED use on Horizon Air and SkyWest commuter flights.
    American Airlines allows PED use on its full-size jets. NO PED use on American Eagle/Connection commuter flights.
    Delta Air Lines allows PED use on its full-size jets. No PED use on Delta Connection commuter flights.
    JetBlue Airways is good to go for PED use on all aircraft.
    United Airlines allows PED use on its full-size jets. No PED use on United Express commuter flights.
    US Airways allows PED use on its full-size jets. No PED use on US Airways Express commuter flights.

United and Delta Race to the Bottom of the Award Charts
During the Cold War, there was a maxim that no superpower would ever look like the bad guy for more than 30 days before the other superpower would do something equally stupid and offensive. So it is with frequent flyer program devaluations. Even as we're still digesting last week's gutting of United MileagePlus, Delta Air Lines this week secretly slipped in a devaluation of its SkyMiles domestic award chart. So let's take the bad news chronologically. Over at United, the new award prices take effect on February 1. Although coach awards were largely untouched, a massive devaluation takes place on international premium-class awards. Worse, United bifurcates the pricing, making business- and especially first-class awards on Star Alliance partners much more expensive than freebies on United aircraft. On what is often considered the bellwether award--a restricted business-class seat to Europe--a United award will now cost 115,000 miles. A seat on a Star Alliance partner will cost 145,000 miles. At the moment, a seat on either United or Star carriers costs just 100,000 miles. Awards for first-class travel will cost upwards of 80 percent more, again with Star Alliance seats priced much higher than a United freebie. Delta had already announced a general price increase to take effect on June 1. Earlier this week, however, it imposed another price increase, this one effective for travel between February 1 and June 31. Many awards have been bumped up by 5,000 miles and some (to/from Asia in a premium class) rise by as much as 20,000 miles.

Frontier Expands Again in Wilmington and Trenton
Frontier Airlines, desperately looking to expand its now-awful "we unbundle everything" service in the East, plans another expansion at Wilmington, Delaware, and Trenton/Mercer County in New Jersey. Currently the only airline operating at ILG--there are flights to Chicago/Midway, Orlando, Tampa and Denver--Frontier will add Wilmington flights to Atlanta and Detroit/Metro. The new service, three weekly A320 flights on each route, begins on April 29. But all is not hunky-dory for Frontier in Wilmington. Service to Houston was cut last month after just 90 days of operation. Meanwhile, 60 miles up the road in Trenton, Frontier is adding three new routes: Cleveland (on February 13); Indianapolis (on April 29) and Nashville (on April 30). There will be three weekly flights on each route using Airbus A319s. ... Atlanta/Hartsfield now has a third-party service offering valet parking. The introductory rate from GreenCoat Auto Concierge is $20 a day. ... The Star Alliance Lounge at Buenos Aires now accepts Priority Pass for entry. ... Denver travelers take note: If you use the East Terminal, expect detours on traffic using levels 4 and 6. Construction began today (November 9) and is expected to run until the middle of next year. More information is here.

Marriott Buys Protea, Instantly Doubles Its Presence in Africa
Marriott made a big play for dominance in the growing Africa hotel market this week by agreeing to buy Protea Hotels, which operates 116 hotels on the continent. Protea operates under three brand names and about 100 of Protea's properties are located in its home country of South Africa. That means Marriott will double its African presence and will soon franchise or manage more than 23,000 rooms on the continent. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. ... Hyatt has opened a 159-room Hyatt Place in downtown Omaha. ... A burst of Starwood news: It has converted the 282-room DoubleTree in Bloomington, Minnesota, into the Sheraton Bloomington. It also reopened the 93-room Sheraton Mallorca Golf Hotel after a renovation. It has also refashioned a former office building into the 188-room Aloft Orlando Downtown. And a newly built 306-room Sheraton has opened in Shantou, China. On the flip side, however, the 427-room Sheraton nearest the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey has become a Hilton. And the Sheraton Suites in San Diego has gone independent and now trades as the 264-room Declan Suites.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The man accused of shooting a TSA agent and injuring three other people at LAX last week could face the death penalty after being charged with murder. The slain TSA agent, 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez, was buried this week. ... Gold-level American AAdvantage members take note: Your free access to Main Cabin Extra seats at time of booking has been extended until February 28. Beginning March 1, however, you'll have to buy the extra-legroom seats for 50 percent off the price. If there are empty seats within 24 hours of departure you'll still get a complimentary upgrade, however. ... Delta Air Lines last month paid for the installation of 40 self-service customs-clearance kiosks at its New York/Kennedy hub. The move has apparently paid off. Customs and Border Protection officials say clearance time at Delta's Terminal 4 facility has been cut in half. ... William Potts, who hijacked a plane to Cuba nearly 30 years ago, returned home this week. He was arrested after stepping off a plane in Miami and faces 20 years to life if convicted. He has already served 15 years in prison for hijacking a Miami-bound Piedmont Airlines flight in 1984.

More Changes from the Official Airline of Oliver Twist
United Airlines customers take note: The carrier has once again downgraded meal service in first class. North America and Latin America flights under 900 miles will now receive only scones at breakfast and snacks at lunch and at dinner time. But fear not, United promises the scones are "warm" and the snacks are "premium." And you will, of course, have Christmas off to make merry because it's just the one day a year. Okay, that last bit is from A Christmas Carol not Oliver Twist, so let's just say United is getting even more Dickensian...

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.