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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR OCTOBER 26, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: the government's suit against Northwest's ownership interest in Continental is about to go to trial; our weekly update on America's alternative carriers; disgruntled Delta Skymiles members post a website; United's phony 'recovery'; and great airfare deals that require quick action.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Keep Your Eyes on the Northwest-Continental Case
The Justice Department's 1998 lawsuit seeking to force Northwest Airlines to sell its controlling interest in Continental was scheduled to go to trial today, but has been delayed until November 1. The government contends that Northwest's 14 percent ownership stake and 54 percent voting interest in Continental is anti-competitive. The lawsuit has already split the defendants: Continental wants to buy back its shares and Northwest is hoping to hold on against the demands of the government and the wishes of Continental chief Gordon Bethune. The Northwest-Continental deal has a number of complicated ownership and management safeguards, but that doesn't impress the Justice Department. "No privately negotiated agreement can alter the fact that…Continental won't compete vigorously with its owner," the government's complaint alleges. The case also has far-reaching implications for United's proposed purchase of USAirways. If the government prevails, there is virtually no chance the United-USAirways combination would survive similar scrutiny.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: New Service and Fares from the Other Guys
Spirit Airlines is due to launch daily DC-9 service today (October 26) to Fort Lauderdale and Melbourne, Florida, from Washington/Reagan. There will be one daily nonstop to each city. Separately, Spirit has launched a "World Serious" sale on fares to Florida from New York/LaGuardia or Newark. Fares start at $142 roundtrip and are valid for travel until December 15; tickets must be purchased by November 10. … Southwest Airlines says it will launch service on January 21 from Palm Beach International. There will be six daily nonstops to Tampa, three to Orlando, and two each to Nashville and Baltimore/Washington. Walk-up fares start at $70 one-way.

CYBERTRAVELER: Disgruntled Delta Skymiles Members Take to the Web
If you're a member of Delta's Skymiles frequent-flyer program and you're unhappy with Delta's recent decision to slash upgrade benefits, then you're not alone. SaveSkymiles.com has been posted by a cadre of Delta dissidents. It offers "boarding cards" so visitors can encourage other unhappy Skymiles members to come to the site; the opportunity to sign an electronic petition being sent to Delta; regularly scheduled discussion groups; and lots of background, news and information about the Delta program. The bottom line, according to the SaveSkymiles home page: "SkyMiles is no longer a strong competitor to other major frequent flyer programs."

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: United's Phony 'Recovery'
The same security analysts and media types who sheepishly accepted United's initial denials about summer service problems are now mindlessly bleating about the airline's quick recovery. Don't believe it. The media and the analysts clearly aren't flying United. If they were, they'd realize that United is still running about four of ten flights late, canceling a disproportionately high percentage of flights, and operating dirty planes that are, more often than not, nearly empty. Passenger loads on some routes are so light that there aren't even enough Mileage Plus Premier members on hand to upgrade to first class. And speaking of United's frequent-flyer program, the airline has been forced to lower its requirements for 2001 elite status. Premier status for 2001 is available for 21,000 miles or 27 segments (instead of 25,000 miles or 30 segments); Premier Executive status for 42,000 miles or 54 segments (instead of 50,000 miles or 60 segments); and 1K Status for 84,000 miles or 90 segments (instead of 100,000 miles or 100 segments). One other note: Some disaffected Premier Executive and 1K members have called the MileagePlus service center demanding their 2000 status level be automatically extended through 2001 as compensation for a particularly horrendous summer travel experience. In most cases, United has granted the request.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
I raved about Laptop Lane's airport computer-cubicle centers in August, but some further amplification is now in order. For starters, Laptop Lane has changed its name to the clumsy "Aerzone Business Center." Worse, its new website is just as clumsy as the name. Worst of all, prices to rent 40-square-foot offices have skyrocketed. They now cost $5 for the first five minutes (up from $2) and 65 cents for each additional minute (up from 38 cents). But there is some good news: new Aerzone outposts have opened in terminals One and Two at Oakland International Airport. … A recent column on the inter-modal possibilities at Paddington Station in London lamented that the nearby Hilton Metropole hotel didn't offer a shuttle-bus service to the station. But now an on-request shuttle service between Paddington and the hotel has been added, according to Metropole general manager George Westwell.

WEEKLY WONDERS: Great Fares Deals if You Hurry
US Airways is offering $99 roundtrip fares on weekend East Coast Shuttle flights through November 12. The catch: you must buy your tickets by October 31 at the USAirways website. Fares are valid all day Saturday and on Sunday until 3:15pm. … Austrian Airlines (800-843-0002) is offering low fares to Vienna and four other Austrian destinations for travel between November 1 and March 29. Roundtrip, midweek fares are $438 (from New York/JFK), $478 (from Washington/Dulles) or $518 (from Chicago/O'Hare). The catch: you've got to buy tickets by October 31.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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