This week: Three new Transportation Department studies say the major airlines try to eliminate low-fare competition; Southwest's profits soar while full-fare carriers flounder; more valuable reading on the potentially fatal Economy-Class Syndrome; SAS adds a fourth class of service; Continental will offer more seats to Hawaii; and much more.
COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Do What I Say, Not What I Did
The Department of Transportation released three huge studies on Tuesday and they broadly conclude what virtually every business traveler knows: Major carriers routinely use their bulk to "eliminate or reduce competition" from smaller airlines and low-fare competition. Astonishingly, however, outgoing Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced no plans to curb the anti-competitive behavior, did not decry the two pending mergers that would further reduce competition and refused to explain why he never used what he called DOT's "legal authority to take action against unfair methods of competition" during his tenure. He also announced that DOT had abandoned a proposed set of competitive guidelines he himself formulated almost three years ago. And in an only-in-Washington conclusion to his dreary stewardship, Slater approved a statement saying that the Transportation Department should "prevent these [anti-competitive] practices in the future."
ALTERNATE ITINERARY: A Weekly Look at America's Other Carriers
Want to know how fast passengers are defecting from the sloppy, cynical, overpriced brand of service provided by merger mates such as United Airlines and US Airways? Check the numbers. While both United and US Airways racked up huge losses in the fourth quarter, profits at Southwest Airlines jumped a staggering 65 percent. And even though Southwest's fourth-quarter capacity increased by an astounding 10 percent, traffic grew even faster, by 13 percent. Oh, by the way, guess which airline now has the nation's largest market capitalization? Yup, Southwest. … Speaking of Southwest, the airline announced it was changing its color scheme for the first time in 30 years. More importantly, it will begin retrofitting its entire fleet with all-leather seats. … Legend Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month and stopped flying its fleet of luxury jets from Dallas/Love Field, may resume scheduled service as soon as next week. First destinations will be New York/LaGuardia and Washington/Dulles. A route to San Jose may be added in March. … JetBlue Airways is reducing prices by $5 each way for every ticket purchased on its proprietary Web site. The promotion is valid for bookings through January 31.
CYBERTRAVELER: More Insight Into 'Economy-Class' Syndrome
I've dug up medical-journal reports from as far back as 1988 warning about "economy-class" syndrome, potentially fatal blood clots caused by long periods of inactivity in tight spaces such as airline seats. But a disturbing report published last Sunday in the British newspaper The Observer claims airline doctors have known about the risks of immobility on long-haul flights since at least 1968. And last week the American Heart Association weighed in on the condition--medically known as deep-vein thrombosis--with a report posted on its Web site. DVT has popped into our collective consciousness before--there was a flurry of publicity after former Vice President Dan Quayle was treated in 1994 for blood clots attributed to his flying patterns--but now the airlines are finally beginning to take the threat seriously. Several major carriers, including Ansett, Qantas, British Airways and Singapore Air, announced this week that they will distribute warnings about DVT with tickets for long-haul flights.
HOTEL BEAT: Name Changes and Price Cuts
The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, which opened last year and immediately won acclaim as one of the best city hotels in the nation, has posted its first winter-season sale. Through February, daily rates are $175 a night and weekend rates are $149. … The Loews New York hotel has completed a $17 million renovation and been renamed the Metropolitan Hotel. It is also offering a Name Change rate of $169 a night through March 31. … Speaking of name changes, one of the best-known properties in Pittsburgh is changing affiliations again. The 618-room hotel is located at Liberty Center; it opened as a Vista in 1987, became the Doubletree Pittsburgh in 1995, and, beginning today (January 18), will be known as the Westin Convention Center.
ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
SAS says it will launch an Economy Plus class of service in September on long-haul flights. Economy Plus will offer more comfortable chairs and more legroom, but standard coach amenities. With the new class, SAS essentially will offer four types of inflight service: business class, business class with sleeper seats, standard coach and Economy Plus. … Continental says it will boost its Hawaii capacity by 31 percent this spring. Beginning May 2, it will add five more weekly DC-10 flights between its Houston/Intercontinental hub and Honolulu. It will also use larger aircraft on its existing daily Honolulu nonstop from its Newark hub. … A mobile lounge shuttling passengers between a terminal and a flight at Washington/Dulles struck a concrete barrier on January 12. Eighteen of the 41 people on board were injured.
WEEKLY WONDERS: The Winter Fare Sales Keep Coming
Last week's Tactical Traveler column covered the first round of winter fare sales for international travel and more offers keep coming. Spanair (888-545-5757), for example, has posted fares between $368 and $418 roundtrip for flights from Washington/Dulles to 12 destinations in Spain. Tickets must be purchased by January 24 and travel must be completed by March 31. Meanwhile, Air Tahiti Nui (877-824-4846) is offering a $399 roundtrip fare between Los Angeles and Papeete on ten specific days between January 21 through March 1.