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Virgin, JetBlue to add flights from California to Fort Lauderdale

Virgin will add two daily nonstops each from LAX and San Francisco International, and JetBlue, which has a Long Beach-to Fort Lauderdale route, will add service from San Francisco.

August 15, 2009|Hugo Martin

Arriba, arriba!

The economy remains sluggish, but some airlines are expanding services and celebrating at more than 30,000 feet.

Virgin America, the 2-year-old airline based in San Francisco, said Tuesday that it would add nonstop flights from California to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida. The airline will begin Nov. 18 with two daily nonstops each from Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.

Not to be outdone, JetBlue Airways announced the same day that it would also add daily nonstop service from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, beginning Nov. 17. JetBlue has run a daily nonstop between Long Beach Airport and Fort Lauderdale since 2003.

What's the logic in adding routes when demand is shrinking?

David Cush, Virgin America's chief executive, said the new service to Fort Lauderdale has been in the pipeline for at least two years, long before the economy took a nose dive. He added that the airline hoped to benefit from economies of scale by eventually increasing to 40 to 50 planes, almost twice as many as it has now.

Besides, he said, he believes when the economy rebounds, Virgin America will be in a strong position.

"We are quite confident in this market," he said.

Three-year-old Mexican airline Volaris also added flights this summer, connecting LAX to Toluca and Guadalajara.

To promote the service, the airline pulled three rows of seats from a flight from Toluca International Airport to LAX to clear space for an airborne concert by Los Tigres del Norte, the Grammy-winning band from Mexico. The passengers included winners of a trivia contest hosted by Mexican television channel Bandamax.

At a news conference at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles after the flight, band frontman Jorge Hernandez said the group played for about an hour and 40 minutes until the batteries for the amplifiers were exhausted. After that, the members sang a cappella over the plane's intercom system.

Elsewhere in the airline industry, there were signs that a full-blown recovery has yet to arrive.

American Airlines this week announced plans to drop all of its American Eagle commuter flights from Orange County to the Bay Area by Aug. 25.

The cut in service includes seven daily flights between John Wayne Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport and five daily flights from John Wayne to San Francisco.

"Our entire capacity cuts are driven by the very deep recession we are in," said American spokesman Tim Smith.

Hotel construction in U.S. plummets

When demand for airline seats slumps, airlines retire airplanes. When demand for hotels slumps, hotels offer bargain rates for available rooms and put the brakes on hotel construction.

A study of U.S. hotel development released this week said 4,554 projects with 487,831 rooms were in the pipeline in July, a 26% decline from the same month last year.

Each of the seven hotel segments tracked by the pipeline report showed a drop from the previous year, with the economy hotels having the biggest decline -- 54% -- in new projects, according to the report by Torto Wheaton Research, Dodge Construction and Smith Travel Research. The segment defined as "upper upscale" hotels saw the second-biggest decline -- 44% -- from a year earlier, according to the report.

Stay here, get a discount on tattoo

The funky and modern Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach is putting its unique spin on the traditional "Play and Stay" deals that offer hotel guests discounts to theme parks and zoos.

Until Dec. 30, guests can book the "Ink and Stay" package that gives special discounts and handouts to guests brave enough to go under the needle with the hotel's in-house tattoo artist.

The package that starts at $399 a night includes a $100 voucher toward a tattoo by the tattoo and graffiti artist simply known as Norm. Also included are moisturizing lotion and an ice pack for healing and a bottle of tequila to numb the pain.

If you are brave enough to be permanently marked with "I ♥ Hotel Erwin," you get $500 to use as you see fit. (Maybe for tattoo removal services.)

If marking your flesh sounds too extreme, the hotel also offers a "Surf and Stay" package that includes a two-hour surf lesson with gear.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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