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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JANUARY 11 TO JANUARY 18, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Europe's winter fare sales are underway; Frontier surges at Denver as domestic travelers book away from United; Air Canada claims everything's rosy up north; a court rules against baggage-sizing templates at Washington/Dulles; Northwest pays $7.1 million to settle a snowstorm suit; United extends Economy Plus seating to international routes; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Rock-Bottom Winter Fares to Europe
If it's a new year, then it's time for the rock-bottom advance-purchase winter fare sales to Europe. For the next week or so, you can purchase roundtrip nonstop flights for as little as $218 to London (on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic); $298 to Paris or Nice (Air France); $308 to Frankfurt and Munich (on Lufthansa); $388 to Vienna (on Austrian Airlines); and $358 to Dublin (on Aer Lingus). The fares are from major East Coast gateways, but similarly inexpensive offers are available from other cities, too. There are also excellent connecting fares available. Samples: $318 to Budapest (on Austrian) or Lisbon (on Air France) and $438 to Athens (on Lufthansa). Restrictions vary by carrier, but most of the cheapest fares are available for midweek travel until mid-March with the requisite Saturday and/or Sunday stay.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Frontier Surges as United Sags
Who's the big winner as United Airlines continues to offer abominable service to domestic passengers? Frontier Airlines, the alternative carrier that has become United's major competitor at Denver. United's domestic traffic dropped by 4.9 percent in December, the sixth consecutive month of decline. By contrast, Frontier's traffic leaped 49.8 percent. … Speaking of Frontier, the airline's Winter White Sale cuts fares for travel until June 13. Sample prices: $69 one way from Denver to Kansas City; $99 to Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth or Las Vegas; and $129 to San Francisco, Atlanta or Seattle. Roundtrip tickets must be purchased by January 22; a 14-day advance purchase and other restrictions apply. Frontier knocks 5 percent off the White Sale prices if you book at its Web site.

CYBERTRAVELER: What Color is the Sky in Air Canada's World?
This will come as a shock to disgruntled Canadian business travelers, but Air Canada says it has completed the 180-Day Commitment recovery program that it implemented last spring in the wake of the airline's meltdown after the Canadian Airlines merger. According to a self-congratulatory report posted on Air Canada's Web site, the airline has shortened telephone wait times, sped up passenger check-in and improved baggage handling. "We knew what had to be done…and we have delivered," crowed chief executive Robert Milton. The airline even boasts it completed its rejuvenation with 50 days to spare. For the record, one of Air Canada's boasts--hiring 2,100 new employees--is already being reversed because the airline recently announced a 3,500-person reduction of its workforce. It also canceled about 800 flights in December, five times the number canceled in December, 1999.

LEGAL BRIEFS: Templates, Snowstorms and the Price of Bad Service
A federal district court ruled Tuesday that baggage-sizing templates installed on shared security checkpoints at Washington/Dulles airport violate federal antitrust laws. United and other carriers unilaterally agreed to install the templates, but Continental objected and sued. United claimed most airline passengers wanted the templates, but the court resoundingly rejected that argument. "If there is any proof to be gleaned from the record, it is of United's failure to provide what its customers desire," the court said in its ruling. … Northwest Airlines will pay $7.1 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 7,000 passengers stranded at Detroit/Metro during a 1999 snowstorm. Many Northwest customers were held incommunicado on planes for more than 10 hours without food, water or working toilets because the airline attempted to operate on January 3, 1999, during near-blizzard conditions. Northwest admitted no guilt in agreeing to the out-of-court settlement.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Sabena has dropped service from Newark to Brussels. It has also ended flights to Johannesburg, South Africa. … United Airlines says it will add Economy Plus service--several rows in the front of its coach cabins with up to five inches of extra legroom--to most of its international flights. At the same time, United says it will add seven inches of legroom to most of its international business-class seats. … The Marriott Rewards program has reduced the amount of points required for free winter stays at 233 participating hotels. The 2001 PointSaver program is in effect until March 31. … Air Canada has introduced ACFlex fares priced at 25-50 percent below full-coach prices. Although some restrictions apply, no minimum stay is required.

WEEKLY WONDER: Cathay's All-Asia Pass is Back
Cathay Pacific created the All-Asia Pass when its traffic plummeted in 1997 after the economies of many Pacific Rim nations tanked. The region is on the road to recovery, but Cathay has retained the pass program. This year's model offers coach travel to its Hong Kong hub and 16 other cities within 21 days for $1,199. (The pass costs $999 if you buy direct from the Cathay website.) Travel is permitted from February 12 to May 13 and from August 14 to December 5. Many options, including transpacific business-class upgrades, are available. For more details, visit the Cathay Web site or use the Cathay fax-back service.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.