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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MARCH 2, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: coming down to the wire on a US Airways Strike; entertainment on the fly; the euro is plunging against the dollar; Tower Air tumbles into Chapter 11; another airline fare increase fails; Virgin Atlantic is giving away personal digital assistants; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Counting Down to a US Airways Strike
Things look bleak at US Airways, where the airline and its flight attendants union are hurling invectives and threats at each other. The clock is now ticking for a possible strike or airline shutdown at 12:01 am Eastern time on March 25. Negotiations collapsed last week after the union turned down the National Mediation Board's offer of binding arbitration. As a result, the NMB released the two sides into a mandatory 30-day "cooling off" period. On March 25, the airline's 10,000 flight attendants are free to strike and the union said it would initiative a series of random job actions. But US Airways executives, including chief executive Stephen Wolf and president Rakesh Gangwal, said they would immediately shut down the airline if an agreement isn't reached by the end of the cooling off period. Most observers believe a strike or shutdown is inevitable. The union has built a website (http://www.afausairways.org) to tell its side of the story. US Airways management is posting its position on the airline's home page.

CYBERTRAVELER: That's Entertainment!
On those rare occasions when your life on the road permits you to consider entertainment options, a welter of websites now offer you the opportunity to rent books, audiobooks and movies. A company called Audio Adventures (http://www.audioadventures.com) rents more than 5,000 audiobooks for as little as $3.90 for 14 days. NetLibrary (http://www.netlibrary.com) offers 13,000 titles--mostly business, reference and scholarly books--that can be "borrowed" right off the web. And then there's Inmotion Pictures (http://www.inmotionpictures.com). It rents DVD players (complete with headphones and AC adapters) and a DVD movie of your choice for as little as $10 a day. The company has even set up shop where frequent flyers live: Inmotion operates kiosks in seven U.S. airports and plans to open five more in the coming months. That allows travelers to pick up a movie and player at one airport and drop them off at another. It currently offers about 200 titles.

DOLLAR WATCH: Follow the Plunging Euro
The 14-month-old Euro hit a new low this week against the U.S. dollar, and that means the greenback is racking up huge gains in the 11 European countries where the local currencies are tied to the Euro. At the close of business on Tuesday, the Euro was trading around 96 cents, a record low for the currency that was selling for as much as $1.17 just a year ago. What does that mean on the ground in Europe? A dollar is buying 6.8 French francs, for example, or 2.03 German marks or 2,010 Italian lire. The dollar is even gaining against the British pound, which isn't even tied to the Euro. On Tuesday, the pound had dropped to $1.57 cents, a seven-month low. And the dollar has also been gaining against the yen: one dollar bought about 110 yen on Tuesday. ... Several airlines tried--and failed--to raise airfares last weekend, the second consecutive weekend that carriers attempted to jack up prices. In both cases, the airlines loaded fare increases into the computer-reservation systems over the weekend, then withdrew the higher prices at the b ginning of the work week when all carriers did not match. One or more airlines will undoubtedly try again this weekend. So be warned: don't buy tickets between Friday and Monday until the fare landscape settles for another week.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Tower Air filed Tuesday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The small, low-fare carrier, based at New York's Kennedy Airport, says will continue flying all of its domestic and international routes. Mandarin Oriental, the Hong Kong-based luxury-hotel chain, says it is negotiating to buy The Rafael Group, which manages deluxe hotels such as The Mark in New York, the Hotel du Rhone in Geneva, and the Turnberry Isle resort in Florida. After two years of intense bickering and international protests, the Italian government has scrapped plans to move most flights from Milan's Linate Airport to distant Malpensa. Despite protests from Alitalia, which favored the plan, virtually all flights currently operating to or from Linate will remain there. Brazil's second-largest carrier, Vasp, is near financial collapse. It has already canceled flights to New York and Toronto and is reducing service to Miami and Brussels.

WEEKLY WONDER: Turning Handsprings at Virgin Atlantic
The battle for premium-class passengers to London took another turn this week when Virgin Atlantic Airways began giving away personal digital assistants. Here's the deal: fly roundtrip once in business class or twice in Premium Economy (Virgin's full-fare coach cabin) between March 1 and June 30 and you'll get a Handspring Visor Deluxe. You'll also receive a leather case and cradle. Fly an additional business-class or full-fare coach roundtrip before August 30 and you'll also receive a modem. The only string attached: you must be a member of Virgin's Flying Club frequent flyer program. For complete details, consult the promotion's web page (http://www.virgin.com/handspring.us).

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.