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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 14, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: airlines slap fuel surcharges on business fares, then launch a leisure-fare sale; our weekly look at alternate and discount carriers; ground disruptions at Kennedy, Newark and Los Angeles airports; a website for Muslim business travelers; and a long-overdue update of business class at Northwest and KLM.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Another Bitter Lesson on Business Fares
What do you make of a week when airlines institute another fuel surcharge and then launch a fare sale? The unmistakable message: Let's soak business travelers again. The fuel surcharge, announced by Continental over the weekend and quickly matched by most other airlines, immediately adds $10 each way to every business fare, including seats purchased by corporations at negotiated discounts. (This $10 fee is in addition to the $10 one-way fuel surcharge imposed in February.) But the fare sale, launched Tuesday by United and quickly matched by the others, is aimed at leisure travelers. Sale seats require a seven-day advance purchase and a Saturday-stay, two restrictions that often disqualify business travelers. To make matters worse, the leisure-travel sale prices are not subject to the fuel surcharges, another clear sign that airlines believe business travelers are suckers. The only solution: Do whatever you can to buy your tickets for fall travel under the terms of the sale. Fares are 15 to 55 percent off earlier prices. Seats must be purchased by September 22, but travel is permitted until December 14.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Our Weekly Update on America's Other Airlines
Legend Airlines, which flies to Dallas/Love Field using DC-9s configured with just 56 seats, has launched four daily roundtrips to New York/LaGuardia airport. JetBlue Airways, the well-funded start-up carrier based at New York/Kennedy, has launched twice-daily service to Burlington, Vermont. It will also begin flying nonstop to Salt Lake City on November 17. The airline uses new A-320 jets in an all-coach configuration. Effective October 26, Spirit Airlines says it will begin nonstop flights between Washington/Reagan National and two Florida destinations: Hollywood and Melbourne. Introductory fares start at $68 one-way for tickets purchased by October 15; travel is valid until December 15. Midwest Express says it will establish a hub at Kansas City. The Milwaukee-based airline eventually will offer nonstop service to 11 destinations from the Missouri city.

AIRPORT REPORT: Disruptions East and West
Frequent flyers traveling to, through or from New York and Los Angeles are grappling with substantial construction disruptions at New York/Kennedy, New York/Newark and Los Angeles International airports. At Kennedy, construction has snarled traffic and all but eliminated convenient parking in and around six of the airport's nine terminals. Construction has also forced rerouting of traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway and many of the other main airport access roads. Meanwhile, the balky monorail system at Newark Airport has been closed for repairs. Worse, most of the parking lot at Terminal C, the airport's busiest, has also been closed. Bottom line: park off the airports and add at least an extra hour to your normal travel time. At LAX, construction on the Sepulveda Tunnel during the late night hours from September 17 to October 26 will cause detours on key access arteries such as Sepulveda Boulevard and Interstate 105.

CYBERTRAVELER: Internet Assistance for Muslim Travelers
Technology and tradition work together to stunningly good effect at Mukmin.com, a website designed to serve the worldwide Islamic community. Of special note is a section called the Mukmin Traveller, which offers invaluable assistance for business travelers who are practicing Muslims. For more than 4,000 destinations around the world, the Mukmin Traveller offers: the local times for each of the five daily prayers; the direction of Mecca; addresses of the nearest mosques; sources for Halal food; and the location of Halal restaurants.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Better Late than Never at Northwest and KLM
Years late and many dollars short, Northwest and KLM are finally updating their threadbare World Business Class. The revamp includes: seat pitch of 60 inches; a seat recline of 150 degrees; additional menu choices and a new mid-flight snack service; and a new at-seat audio-video system. The upgrades will be completed by March 31 at Northwest and by May on KLM. But the improvements still leave Northwest and KLM a bit short of the business-class amenities offered by most of its major competitors, a sad commentary considering that World Business Class was a ground-breaking product when it was introduced in 1994. One other note: Northwest will drop its moribund first-class service next month rather than compete with other major trans-Pacific carriers, all of which offer lie-flat beds in first class. "We couldn't sell the outdated first class we had and no one here wanted to step up and invest in beds," a Northwest executive told me on Monday. "So we had no choice but to get out of the first-class business."

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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