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Relief is on the way as U.S. airports get additional border control staff

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will add 2,000 new customs agents at 44 ports of entry to combat the problem of long customs wait times, which recent studies found have often reached up to three hours for travelers. The additional staff will also help improve security. Air terminals slated to receive the extra staffing include New York, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

U.K. to reduce Air Passenger Duty on many long-haul flights

Government officials in the United Kingdom announced that a new Air Passenger Duty (ADP) structure will be implemented, which will lead to lower fees for many long-haul flights. The current ADP, which is by far the highest departure tax in the Western world, was charged based on four bands determined by distance from London to the destination. Under the new system, which will go into effect next year, the upper two bands will be abolished so that one band will cover all flights more than 2,000 miles. Industry groups believe the ADP should be further lowered but said that this change is a positive step for travelers.

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AIRLINE BRIEFS

Air France

Flat-bed seating will be introduced on Air France long-haul flights between JFK and Paris. The carrier's upgraded Boeing 777-200 aircraft will first launch in June, while the first Boeing 777-300 equipped with four new cabins including La Premier will hit the air in the fall.

Alaska Airlines

Customers will soon have the option to print checked baggage tags before going to the airport. When a passenger checks in online, the system will present an option to print a checked-luggage tag, which should be placed in a special tag holder and placed on the bag. Customers can request a tag holder by mail, or can get one at the airport. This system was successfully tested on Alaska's Seattle-Hawaii route. Alaska Airlines will now begin rolling out the new service April 21 on the Seattle-San Diego route and between Anchorage and Juneau. Other flights will be added in summer.

In other news, Alaska announced it would award double Mileage Plan points for travel on British Airways-operated flights between Seattle and London through June 24. To be eligible, members must enroll for this promotion at http://www.alaskaair.com/www2/Promo/Registration/PromoEntry.aspx?&pid=BA1401

American Airlines

AAdvantage frequent flier members can now earn 1,000 extra bonus miles on 10 new routes from New York. Bonuses are valid on flights operated by American Eagle for travel through June 30 and include the following destinations: Charlottesville, Dayton, Greensboro, Knoxville, Little Rock, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Wilmington. AAdvantage members must register in advance by visiting http://www.aa.com/viewPromotionDetails.do?fN=aad_air-laguardia.xml&_locale=en_US.

In merger news, American has moved forward on several changes aimed at bringing US Airways' and American's offerings more in line with each other. For example, the name "Envoy" will be replaced with "Business Class", while coach class will be referred to as "Main Cabin". All business-class travelers on international flights will receive Bose QuiteComfort 15 noise-canceling headphones, while Samsung Galaxy tablets will be made available in business class on Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft. Food and beverage offerings will also be standardized.

American and US Airways also announced that they have received government approval to launch code share service on flights to South Korea and that the two airlines are now co-located in 42 airports including New York (JFK), Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

Finally, US Airways has officially ended its membership with the Star Alliance and instead is now a member of the oneworld global airline alliance. Dividend Miles members can now earn status points and miles when flying on any oneworld carrier, however the ability to redeem awards on member carriers will be phased-in over the next few months. US Airways said it will offer bonuses up to 25,000 miles when Dividend Miles members fly on oneworld carriers. For more information please visit http://shopping.usairways.com/promotion/dividendmiles/registration.aspx?PromoCode=OWMP&cint=hptxtus_21248.

Delta Air Lines

Delta is now offering Wi-Fi service on select international flights. Using Wi-Fi provider Gogo, passengers traveling on equipped Boeing 747 aircraft flying to Tokyo from Atlanta or Los Angeles will now have the option to stay connected in-flight. Fees start at $14 for a one hour pass for laptop users or just $8 an hour for mobile devices. Laptop users can also purchase a Wi-Fi pass covering the entire flight for $24.95 while mobile users will pay $14.95 for a flight pass.

Delta's rapid expansion in Seattle continues as the carrier launched nonstop service to London Heathrow. Later this spring, Delta will add flights from Seattle to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose to support international service to Amsterdam, Beijing, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo in addition to the new London route.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

KLM is continuing its efforts to roll out its new World Business Class cabins on long-haul international flights. The upgraded cabins feature full-flat seats. The carrier said 22 of its Boeing 747 aircraft will be converted by the end of April. KLM will then target 15 Boeing 777-200 aircraft for the upgrades.

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AIRPORT REPORT

Baltimore Thurgood Marshall Airport

The cell phone lot for parked drivers waiting for arriving passengers has been relocated to the other side of Terminal Road. The move will provide twice the number of parking spots in the free waiting area. It will also add more spaces to the airport's "express" parking lot, which offers luggage assistance and "carside-to-curbside" shuttle services.

Chicago O'Hare

O'Hare will be outfitted with more than 110 new charging stations in United's Concourses B and C. Each station will have six 110-power outlets and two USB ports. Similar charging stations will also be added at Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York LaGuardia, Newark and Washington Dulles.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Airport officials are urging passengers to arrive to the airport two-and-a-half hours before departure at least for the next month. Fewer security personnel, along with more peak-time travelers and flights, are causing screening delays beyond 45 minutes at the main terminal. In addition to screening delays, airport officials note that parking and checking in for flights is also taking longer. Besides arriving to the airport earlier, travelers are being urged to consider enrollment in the TSA PreCheck program, especially now that the TSA has opened two local enrollment offices. Long term, the airport is looking at reconfiguring security checkpoints so they are wider and more efficient.

New York JFK

The JFK Travel Plaza is now officially open. The new facility offers travelers, airport employees, taxis and visitors a place for food, fuel and other services such as dry cleaning, banking, auto repair and car wash. The facility also features Wi-Fi and flight information display boards. Airport Plazas are also under construction at Ft. Myers, Indianapolis and Newark airports.

Newark Liberty International Airport

A major runway rehabilitation project is underway. Expected to take 60 days to complete, the work will require a temporary change in flight patterns. As a result, the airport has asked airlines to reduce their scheduled flights by 15 percent. As with any runway project, construction could mean longer than normal delays for flights, especially when weather becomes a factor.

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FEATURED ARTICLES

The battle for New York-London heats up

Consistently considered one of the most prized international routes, the battle for market share between New York and London has intensified as both American and Delta have unveiled new strategies aimed at attracting more business travelers.

Delta, which began its new joint venture with Virgin Atlantic earlier this year, just launched a new harmonized schedule between New York and London Heathrow that features seven daily nonstop flights out of JFK and two out of Newark. The service will feature upgraded aircraft with 35 full flat-bed Business Elite seats on Delta-operated aircraft or the high-tech aircraft operated by Virgin. The partners have renovated their terminal space and have now co-located their operations at Heathrow's T 3 to allow for a more seamless customer experience. Delta, which has an estimated market share of 24 percent, says interest from corporate customers is increasing due to its recent changes.

American and partner British Airways, which have enjoyed a 59 percent share of the New York- London market, are fighting back. American, which is refreshing its fleet with hundreds of new planes, has put newly enhanced flagship aircraft on the route. In addition, the partners also have their strength of short-haul connections within Britain and Europe along with American's newly expanded domestic network, thanks to its merger with US Airways, to help keep their existing customers.

While American and Delta take aim at each other in the battle for the New York-London market, the loser may actually be United, which currently only has an estimated market share of 14 percent and operates a handful of flights to London only from Newark. According to industry analysts, ultimately an airline's reach, whether it's through code shares, alliances or its own service, is what drives interest from business travelers.

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HOTEL LOYALTY

More independents reward repeat guests

In a growing trend, more independent and boutique hotels are joining marketing groups that offer incentives to repeat customers. Many independents do not have the resources to create and manage their own loyalty program, but have found that such programs are critical when competing against the major hotel chains. Groups such as Leading Hotels of the World, which currently has more than 400 hotel members, and The Preferred Hotel Group, which is made up of 650 independent hotels, continue to gain members.

Other groups such as the Stash Hotel Rewards program or Voila Hotel Rewards also provide a mechanism for independents to reward customers for repeat business. Voila already has more than 100 hotels around the world participating in their program while Stash, which launched its program just three years ago, now has 200 independent hotels as members.

Most of these independent programs try to allow flexibility for their participating hotels so travelers who enroll may find that different hotels within the program have different award levels etc. However, frequent guests are finding that these independent programs can yield real benefits.

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TRAVEL TIPS

Online Booking: Do it all in a single shell

When making travel plans, it is very common for customers to start by booking their air reservation first. They will then add the hotel, car or limo service at a later time. When making these reservations using your online booking tool, it is best to modify your existing air booking to add the new trip components instead of creating a separate itinerary with just a hotel and ground transportation.

By using a single reservation shell for all components of your trip, you will have all important details in a single location, which will be much easier for you and your company in case of an emergency or unexpected travel disruption. You can also save your company money by avoiding potential extra fees for multiple online reservation shells.

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