By Joe Brancatelli

· Year 2014 So Far: Worst. Flying. Ever. (Almost.)
· Loews Hotels Makes Another Run at Bulking Up
· Need to Fly to Caracas, Venezuela? Lotsa Luck
· United Airlines Drops Newark-Stuttgart Route
· A Few Good, New Places to Burn Hotel Points
· First Hyatt Place Opens in District of Columbia
· How Convoluted Can Big Airlines Make Flying?

The Year 2014 So Far: Worst. Flying. Ever. (Almost.)
You weren't imagining it: Flying this year has been epically bad. According to Transportation Department data released this week, on-time operation for the first five months of 2014 was the fourth worst in the last 20 years. The January-through-May industry average of 74.66 percent was lower than any January-May period except for the years 2008, 2007 and 1996. And 2014's five-month cancellation rate of 3.33 percent was worse than any January-May period except 2000. Worst of the worst for the first five months of the year was ExpressJet, which operates more than 2,300 flights for the commuter divisions of American, United and Delta. It managed an on-time rating of just 66.25 percent. Only slightly better was Envoy (formerly American Eagle) at 69.17 percent. United was the worst-performing legacy carrier with a 75.89 percent rating, but that doesn't include the flights operated as United Express. Southwest (70.46 percent) and JetBlue (70.97 percent) also fared poorly during the first five months of the year. One side note: In May, four domestic flights were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours. All four were United flights. The worst was Flight 1426 on May 9 from Los Angeles to Houston/Intercontinental. It was stuck on the tarmac in Corpus Christi, Texas, for 3 hours, 42 minutes.

Loews Hotels Makes Another Run at Bulking Up
Business travelers who stay at Loews Hotels generally like the properties. The problem? There are only about two dozen of them. That makes it hard to give Loews loyalty. But Loews is making another of its occasional runs at bulking up its national footprint. This week it completed the acquisition of the Graves 611 in Minneapolis, which had been operating as a Wyndham. The 258-room downtown property was immediately reflagged as the Loews Minneapolis and will receive a $7 million facelift next year. Although the purchase price wasn't revealed, the seller said Loews "gave us a price we couldn't refuse." Loews is also paying big to acquire the 556-room Intercontinental Chicago O'Hare, generally regarded as the airport's best hotel. The $180 million property opened in September, 2008, just as the global financial meltdown began. It filed bankruptcy a year later and was about to be sold for $42 million in 2010 until lenders persuaded the bankruptcy court judge to hold on. Loews is reportedly paying $120 million to acquire the hotel, which will be reflagged as soon as the deal closes. Loews is also building a hotel in downtown Chicago that will open next year. ... Speaking of upmarket chains expanding their options, the latest Hyatt Place has opened in Washington. The 200-room property is in the NoMa district.

Need to Fly to Venezuela? Lotsa Luck...
A nasty squabble with the Venezuelan government over repatriating cash generated by ticket sales has led U.S. carriers flying to Caracas to slash service. On August 1, Delta Air Lines will slash its daily service to a single weekly flight. Earlier this month, American Airlines cut nearly 80 percent of its flights to Venezuela. It had been operating 48 flights a week, but is now down to 10. American says it had $750 million stuck in Venezuela as of March 31. ... Marriott has opened a 234-room Courtyard hotel in Boluo, Huizhou, China. It's the first internationally branded property in that county, part of the province of Guangdong. ... Hilton has opened a 335-room DoubleTree in the Iskandar Region of Johor Bahru, Malaysia. ... United Airlines is dropping its Newark-Stuttgart route on September 20. The Boeing 757 flights were launched by Continental Airlines in June, 2011.

A Few Good, New Places to Burn Hotel Points
For all the global reach that hotel families have, there's always a need for great new properties in great places. After all, there's just one place to cash Hilton HHonors points in Hong Kong and no Hilton in central Paris. There is nowhere to use your Hyatt Gold Passport points in Rome. And IHG Rewards has nothing to offer on Maui. So with the goal of having more and better places to burn points, consider these newbies. ... The 149-room AC by Marriott opened in the 16th arrondissement of Paris near the Porte Maillot Metro and RER rail station. ... Hilton has opened a 58-room DoubleTree in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town, Zanzibar. And while the timing wasn't great considering Typhoon Neoguri hit Okinawa hard this week, the 346-room Hilton Okinawa Chatan resort has opened next to one of the island's largest entertainment districts. ... And InterContinental has opened a 168-room Holiday Inn Express in Kuta on the island of Bali. ... Although they still cannot be booked online, American AAdvantage awards on Etihad Airways are once again available by calling the AAdvantage service center. There had been tech glitches booking the carrier in recent months and American is Etihad's only U.S. frequent flyer program partner. ... Marriott Rewards promises new, short-term promotions on a new site called Marriott Flash Perks. It debuts next Thursday (July 17).

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Hard to believe, but United Airlines is finding more new ways to cheapen its service. It is outsourcing ground services--including ticket-counter and gate agents and baggage handling--at 12 more airports. The cost-cutting means 630 fewer jobs on the UA payroll and third-party service at airports such as Detroit/Metro, Des Moines and Charlotte. Meanwhile, a traveler based in United's hometown of Chicago is suing the airline, claiming that it purposefully delays checked bags to accommodate cargo. More details and the filing are here. The passenger also wants her complaint to be turned into a class-action suit. ... I wrote a column more than a decade ago called "Why Can't the Big Six KISS?". In short, it talked about how ridiculously complicated legacy airlines make their businesses. Want a contemporaneous example? Surf to Gary Leff's View From the Wing blog and check the impossibly convoluted chart that American Airlines and US Airways will soon use to handle snacks and meals on domestic flights.

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 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.