The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Briefing for November 13 to 27, 2014
The briefing in brief: What passes for "victory" now in coach; United mimics Delta again; Lufthansa adds Tampa-Frankfurt route; Alaska Airlines returns to Dulles; United dumps Atlantic City; major hotel changes Down Under; Don't mention the war; and much more.

This Is What Passes For 'Victory' in Coach Now
JetBlue Airways, the last U.S. carrier with comfortable coach seats, will sell at least part of its soul to the howling jackals in the security-analyst community next week when it announces major seating changes. But that's grist for discussion and dissent when JetBlue unveils specifics of the tighter seating arrangements next Wednesday (November 19). This week we get to talk about what now passes for "victory": American Airlines says it has backed off a plan to shoehorn five more chairs into its largest regional jets, currently configured with 76 seats. American's bosses aren't taking pity on frequent flyers, however. The decision to forego extra seats is part of negotiations to forge the first joint pilots contract since the American-US Airways merger. The current pilots contract caps the RJ seat count at 76 and American was trying to convince their aviators to accept a contract that permitted the additional chairs. But after flight attendants last week voted to reject the first joint contract their union negotiated with American, the airline apparently thought better of making the extra seats an issue in what will surely be long and contentious pilots negotiations.

United Does It Again, Mimics Delta on Elite-Revenue Requirements
I've joked that C-suite executives at United Airlines wear bracelets that say WWDD (What Would Delta Do) and now the monkey-see-monkey-do boys in Chicago are at it again. Just a month after Delta raised SkyMiles 2015 minimum revenue requirements for 2016 elite status, United MileagePlus matched. Exactly matched. Down to the penny. And apparently without a moment's thought about how United is different than Delta or how MileagePlus compares to SkyMiles. So if you still crave MileagePlus elite status in 2016--or, more likely, have no choice but to fly United--be prepared to spend 20 percent more in 2015 than you're spending this year for 2015 status. Complete details are here. ... Speaking of elite qualification, if you're coming up short on your American AAdvantage status next year, you can buy your way in. Depending on level and activity, prices range from $399 to $2,499. Prices are complicated and aren't cheap but, depending on your time pressures, may be less expensive than flying your way into the status. Gary Leff's View From the Wing blog has a spot-on analysis of tactics. Read it before you commit to the extra spend. ... Elite Starwood Preferred Guest members take note: A new alliance with the Emirates Skywards program means you'll get some extra privileges--bonus miles, priority check-in--when flying the Dubai-based carrier. Complete details are here.

Lufthansa Will Fly Nonstop Between Tampa and Frankfurt
The long and winding road that Lufthansa has traveled to reduce or eliminate first-class cabins is beginning to pay dividends for flyers. Some of the first of the German carrier's rejiggered Airbus A340s will appear on a new nonstop route between Tampa and Frankfurt. Service begins September 25 at least four times per week and the aircraft will be figured with 18 business-class seats, 19 of the carrier's new premium-economy chairs and 261 seats in coach. ... Speaking of flights between Florida and Europe, Icelandair returns to Orlando next September with four weekly flights to Reykjavik. Icelandair, which pulled out of Orlando in 2006, will use Boeing 757s configured with its cheap-but-skimpy business class, premium economy and coach. ... American Airlines is now code-sharing on Jetstar Japan flights between Tokyo/Narita and five destinations: Fukuoka, Matsuyama, Okinawa/Naha, Osaka/Kansai and Sapporo/Chitose.

Alaska Airlines Returns to Dulles, United Bails on Atlantic City
Eight years after it dropped flights to Washington/Dulles, Alaska Airlines is returning, meaning it will service all three Washington-area airports with flights to its Seattle hub. Effective March 11, Alaska will operate a daily roundtrip to Dulles as well as flights to Baltimore/Washington and Washington/National ... Southwest Airlines is adding another route to Mexico, this one between John Wayne/Orange County and Puerto Vallarta. There'll be one daily flight beginning on June 7. ... This will surprise no one: United Airlines is pulling out of Atlantic City. The nonstop regional-jet flights from its Chicago/O'Hare and Houston/Intercontinental will end on December 3. Flights only began on April 1 and were part of a quid pro quo deal with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who promised United chief executive Jeff Smisek that he'd push for a connection between regional PATH trains and United's Newark hub. Christie also arranged for $60,000 in marketing support for the flights and Atlantic City's casino agency purchased an unknown number of seats to shield United from losses on the routes.

The Names on Famous Hotel Doors Change Down Under
Remember the once oh-so-trendy Ritz-Carlton in the once oh-so-trendy Double Bay suburb of Sydney? If nothing else, you may remember the hotel as the place where INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence died in 1997. The property fell on very hard times not long after and, before it closed in 2009, traded as the Stamford Hotel. At one point, it was even slated to be demolished. But after a new owner did a major refurbishment, the 140-room property has reopened as the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay. The iconic Grand Ballroom has been restored and a rooftop infinity pool with private cabanas has been added. There are other big changes in the Down Under lodging scene, too. The Park Melbourne, located across from the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, is out of the Hilton chain after 40 years. The 419-room property will become a Pullman, one of the Accor brands. Meanwhile, across the Tasman, the Kawarau Hotel in Queenstown, New Zealand, is rebranding. The 95-room hotel in Kawarau Village has recently been managed as a Hilton, but now it'll be switching to Hilton's Doubletree flag and called the Doubletree Queenstown.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Gogo, the world's leading provider of in-flight WiFi, this week turned in another loss-making quarter. And it's clear that the vast majority of flyers just aren't interested in paying for in-flight WiFi. Gogo's "uptake rate"--the flyers on WiFi-equipped flights paying to log on--was just 6.2 percent in the third quarter. This may or may not be a related fact: Despite an earlier pronouncement, AT&T won't be getting into the in-flight WiFi business after all. ... As you may have heard while President Obama was in China earlier this week, the United States and China have agreed to extend the length of visas. U.S. travelers to China will now be able to apply for visas valid for as long as 10 years. ... Italy travelers take note: Airport and airline workers in Italy plan to strike tomorrow (November 14) and Saturday morning. Many trains will also be affected. Follow-up strikes are planed for four days in December. More details (in Italian) are here.

Don't Mention the War ...
Air Serbia will launch flights next month between Belgrade and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Air links between the two cities were severed in 1991, the year the Balkans went to war. As you surely recall, Serbs Croats fought brutal, bloody battles for years after Croatia broke away from Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia. Air Serbia is the successor to JAT, flag carrier of the extinct Yugoslavia. It is now 49 percent owned and mostly controlled by Etihad, based in the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.