The Brancatelli File



May 4, 2006 -- The best thing about writing this column is that you are brilliant, especially about matters concerning life on the road.

To mangle that old aphorism, I don't have to try to make you drink. I don't even have to lead you to water. All I have to do is mention that liquid exists. You'll not only find your way there, but you're more than capable of deciding what is cool, clear water and what is the metaphoric Kool-Aid.

That said, I'm comfortable letting you draw your own conclusions about the following items.

The Song Is Ended
Delta Air Lines last week officially killed Song, its low-fare, JetBlue wannabe. Effective Monday, Song's routes returned to Delta's mainline operation, the Song Web site began directing flyers back to and Song's fleet of Boeing 757s has been folded back into Delta's fleet. And three years after it ripped first-class seats out of the aging B757s, first-class cabins are being restored. As a result, Song's 33-inch legroom in coach will disappear. All former Song jets will be returned to Delta's industry-standard coach seat pitch of about 31 inches.

Flying a Mile In Someone Else's Plane
US Airways is hot to fly from its Philadelphia hub to Shannon, Glasgow and Lisbon. But it doesn't have enough planes to run the seasonal service. The solution? Pick up three aging Boeing 757s from ATA Airlines. The problem? Those planes don't have anything like US Airways' Envoy international business-class cabin. So when the planes go into service in early June, passengers will not have a legitimate business-class option. The planes do have eight "up front" seats in ATA's old business-class configuration. How those chairs will be assigned--they don't seem to be available for sale on the Web site--is anyone's guess.

Frequent Flyer Programs at 25
American Airlines launched AAdvantage, the first fully formed frequent flyer program, 25 years ago this week. United Airlines launched Mileage Plus less than two weeks later. So how have the programs fared? If the respondents to's "25 Years Later…" survey are to be believed, not too well. More than 80 percent said frequent flyer programs have gotten worse at "rewarding their most loyal customers." A startling 92 percent of them also recognize that frequent flyer programs are "primarily" a marketing tool, not a way to "reward loyal travelers." And more than 55 percent believe that miles earned by non-flying methods "dilute the value of a program for those who travel often."

The Lame Promoting The Inexplicable
As if to underscore the nature of today's frequent flyer programs, United Mileage Plus this week introduced Choices, a tortured, rule-hobbled new feature of the Chase Mileage Plus Visa card. Despite thousands of words of obtuse and sometimes misleading explanation on the United Web site, Choices is nothing more than a limited, 1 percent cash-rebate scheme. Mileage Plus Visa holders essentially get the option of trading in the miles they've earned from credit-card charges for rebates against travel booked at The rebate value is just eight-tenths of a cent for hotel purchases and a penny a mile for airline tickets, hardly something that "reinvents travel loyalty programs," a claim United made this week.

Registered? Yes. Privileged? No.
The long-delayed Registered Traveler plan that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is supposed to launch on June 20 won't allow flyers who pay $80 to $100 to bypass much of anything. It was already known that the TSA would not permit registered travelers to bypass random secondary screenings. Now it turns out that registered travelers will be required to take off their jackets and shoes and remove their laptops from their carry-on bags, too. And TSA administrator Kip Hawley bluntly told the Boston Globe what many have long known: The TSA really doesn't want a registered traveler program at all. "We are open to it," he said this week, "but we are not advocating it."

If you describe power and size by airport dominance, the nation's most important carrier is Southwest Airlines. According to the data compiled by Aviation Daily, the trade journal, Southwest is the largest carrier at 24 of the nation's 60 busiest airport. No other airline comes close. In fact, except for their respective hubs, the Big Six are the largest carriers at only six of the 60 busiest airports. The non-hub, non-Southwest airports that the Big Six dominate are Boston (Delta and American each have about 16 percent of the traffic); Fort Myers (Delta has about 20 percent of a fractured market); Hartford (Delta has 26 percent of the passengers, followed by Southwest with 18 percent); Indianapolis (Northwest has about 18 percent, followed by Southwest with 12.8 percent) and New York/LaGuardia, where American has about 20 percent of the market and Delta has about 18 percent of the traffic. That sixth Big Six airport? Ultra-competitive Fort Lauderdale, where Delta has 16.4 percent of the traffic, followed by Southwest (12.2 percent), JetBlue (11.6 percent) and US Airways (10.8 percent).

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.