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White House: Obama going to Ill. for Lincoln 200th

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is heading back to his home state for the first time as president.

The White House says Obama will travel to Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 12 in honor of one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama will attend the commemoration of Lincoln's 200th birthday and speak at a banquet in Springfield. The spokesman says Obama is returning to Illinois for the festivities at the request of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.American adds customer-recognition technology

FORT WORTH, Texas -- American Airlines says customers who call for flight information will get it faster because of speech-recognition technology that it is adding to its service for frequent travelers.

The technology is designed to save the airline money by reducing the need for employees to handle customer calls, although American spokesman Charley Wilson said the intent was to improve customer service, not cut jobs.

American said Thursday that the "Remember Me" system will recognize phone numbers and greet customers by name if they've signed up under American's frequent-flier program, AAdvantage. They can list up to three phone numbers from which they'll call the airline.

If the customer is booked on a flight that day, the system will offer gate and flight information without prompting, the airline said.

The technology is provided by Tellme, a company that Microsoft Corp. bought last year.

Tellme executive Jamie Bertasi told The Associated Press that in the recession companies are more concerned with keeping customers happy while also cutting costs -- and much of the cost of a call center comes from training people. The technology saves money by cutting the number of calls that require handling by an employee, she said.

Bertasi said American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp., is the first major carrier to use Tellme's technology, which has been sold to other types of businesses, including Domino's Pizza.

Bertasi said the technology won't help customers find a seat on a fully booked plane.

"Perhaps we'll add that feature," she joked.

Universal Orlando "Fear Factor Live" shuts for now

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Universal Orlando's "Fear Factor Live" attraction was temporarily closed Thursday amid a factor of fear and uncertainty about the economy.

The attraction, which challenges park guests to gross-out stunts like the ones on the NBC television show, will reopen in the spring. Universal spokesman Tom Schroder wouldn't say how many months the attraction would be shuttered but said it was a result of changes in seasonal demand and the business forecast for the rest of the year.

"What we know is that 2009 is going to have its share of challenges and so we're managing our business as best as we can so we can meet those challenges," Schroder said.

A limited number of other rides and attractions at the two-theme park resort will have their hours reduced, but visitors shouldn't notice the changes, Schroder said. The resort is home to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

"We're changing schedules based on guest demand," Schroder said. "Our visitors will be able to experience the shows and rides they want to."

The decision to shutter "Fear Factor Live" temporarily was made as Orlando's theme parks feel squeezed by the recession. Universal Orlando laid off 70 employees less than a month ago, and last month The Walt Disney Co. offered voluntary buyout packages to about 600 executives at its U.S. theme parks unit.

Orlando International Airport reported a traffic drop of 2.25 percent for 2008 and a drop of 6.5 percent last December.

Walt Disney World spokeswoman Kim Prunty said Thursday that the resort constantly makes schedule adjustments to the attractions at its four theme parks based on the ebb and flow of demand.

US Airways to charge $7 for pillows and blankets

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If you want a pillow and blanket in coach on US Airways, it's going to cost you $7.

US Airways said Thursday it will begin charging for its "Power-Nap Sack" on Feb. 16. It's following the lead of JetBlue Airways, which announced a similar policy last summer.

Airlines are adding fees on checked luggage and now pillows and blankets to raise more money as they battle a downturn in travel caused by the recession. US Airways reported that January traffic fell 6.2 percent.

Kevin Jackson, a marketing official for Tempe-based US Airways, said selling the pillows and blankets "is a natural extension of our 'pay for what you choose and use' model we began rolling out last year."

Jackson said the sleep kit was an affordable way for passengers to increase their comfort while flying.

The kits include a 34-by-60-inch fleece blanket, a neck pillow, eye shades, foam ear plugs and a $10-off coupon for items in the SkyMall catalog. They come in a fleece drawstring bag embroidered with the airline's logo.

The airline said it will stop handing out free pillows and blankets in coach on domestic flights. Customers in first class and in Envoy and Economy class on trans-Atlantic flights will continue getting complimentary pillows and blankets.

The kits won't be available on US Airways Express.

For customers who can't wait until Feb. 16 for their own US Airways-embroidered nap kit, the company said they went on sale Thursday at the airline's Web site.

Universal Hollywood to open rebuilt sets in summer

LOS ANGELES – Universal Studios Hollywood says that most of the sets destroyed last June when a fire ripped through part of its back lot will reopen this summer.

Production will resume in midsummer on the rebuilt New York streetscape -- featured in "Spider-Man 2" and "Transformers" -- plus Courthouse Square and Brownstone Street, a studio press release said.

Roofers using a blowtorch accidentally started the fire June 1. The blaze also destroyed the King Kong attraction and a video vault.

New sets including a London-based street and a modern urban cityscape will also open.

No announcement has been made on rebuilding King Kong. The vault is under construction.

General Electric Co. said in its fourth-quarter earnings report that media subsidiary NBC Universal Inc.'s film and parks unit reported a $225 million gain from insurance benefits relating to the fire.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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