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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MARCH 8 TO MARCH 14, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: protecting yourself against possible strikes at Northwest and Comair; more new flights from Southwest, JetBlue and WestJet; updates on the proposed TWA-American and United-US Airways mergers; travelers are booking away from high-fare airlines; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Watch Out for Striking Airlines
Mechanics at Northwest Airlines are legally free to strike as early as Monday, March 12, but another labor situation to watch is at Delta, where pilots for Delta Connection carrier Comair could walk off the job on March 23. In the Northwest situation, the federally mandated 30-day cooling off period ends Monday. Mechanics may walk off the job at that time, but there is every indication that President Bush would then order a Presidential Emergency Board. That would delay a strike for 60 more days. The Comair matter is harder to handicap. Pilots have voted to strike, but they must also vote on a contract offer before their 30-day cooling off period ends. And no one knows if the President would intervene in that dispute. How do you protect yourself? Whenever possible in the coming weeks, book away from Northwest and from Continental flights 5000 through 8059. Those are code-share segments operated for Continental by Northwest. (Some KLM, Alaska and America West flights are also code-shares operated by Northwest.) You should also avoid Delta flights 5000 to 6099. Those are the Delta Connection flights operated by Comair.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: More New Service From the Other Carriers
JetBlue Airways continues to expand from its New York/Kennedy base. The year-old, all-coach carrier will launch daily nonstop night flights to Seattle on May 1. It begins daily nonstop night flights to Denver on May 17. Introductory prices start as low as $99 one-way. Effective June 10, Southwest Airlines will beef up its nonstop service from John Wayne/Orange County. There will be three new daily flights to Phoenix and two new daily nonstops to Las Vegas. Walk-up fares start at $86 one-way; 7-day advance purchase fares are as low as $46. Low-fare WestJet continues its assault on Air Canada. Beginning July 1, WestJet will launch new nonstop flights between Ottawa and Calgary; Edmonton and Hamilton; and Calgary and Hamilton.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Travelers Saying No to High Fares
The days of wine and fare increases seem to be over for the world's major full-fare carriers. Traffic plummeted in February compared to last year at a half-dozen leading full-price airlines, but it skyrocketed at several low-fare lines. In Europe, for example, KLM's traffic fell 5 percent and British Airways' numbers dipped 7.7 percent. In the United States, the five largest carriers also took a hit. American's system-wide traffic declined by 4.6 percent. Delta's domestic traffic dropped 6.9 percent, while Continental's jet traffic declined 2.1 percent and Northwest's total traffic dropped about 1 percent. As usual, the big loser was United, where North American traffic on the nation's worst carrier plummeted another 8.9 percent, the eighth consecutive monthly decline. On the other hand, low-fare carriers are growing as fast as they can add seats. Traffic at AirTran, for example, jumped 27.2 percent. And Southwest's traffic in February grew by 8.5 percent.

MERGER WATCH I: American and TWA Go Down to the Wire
A judge in the TWA bankruptcy case may rule on a winning bidder for the airline's key assets as early as this weekend. American Airlines is still the front runner, but an investment group with the financial backing of TWA's former owner, corporate raider Carl Icahn, has made an offer. That group wants to keep TWA independent, but its bid requires concessions from TWA's workers, an unlikely scenario given labor's abhorrence of Icahn. Meanwhile, bad news for lifetime members of TWA's Ambassadors Club. American says it will only offer those flyers a two-year membership in the American Admirals club. However, American says it will honor annual and multi-year Ambassadors Club memberships for their full terms. An international flap has developed over American's plan to drop TWA's New York-Tel Aviv route. American claims the route isn't financially feasible, but TWA's Israeli workers insist the service is profitable. That has led some critics to suggest American is caving to pressure from Arab states while others contend that American simply doesn't want to deal with Israel's combative labor unions.

MERGER UPDATE II: United Backtracks Again on US Airways Deal
When it first announced the deal last May, United boasted its proposed purchase of US Airways raised virtually no regulatory concerns. But pressure from the Clinton Administration's Justice Department led United to push back its completion date to April 2. Now United has had to backtrack again because the Bush Administration's Justice Department has questions about the peculiar deal where United and American would jointly operate what is now the US Airways Shuttle. United now has no firm date for the merger. United's labor unions are also pressing the airline over the merger. Mechanics and flight attendants, who are attempting to negotiate their own contracts, also want protection against layoffs and forced relocations should the US Airways purchase be completed. Meanwhile, United has agreed to sell the commuter carriers comprising US Airways Express if the merger is approved.

WEEKLY WONDER: A Fourth-Class Deal to China
China Southern Airlines (888-338-8988) is one of the growing number of carriers flying a fourth class of service, which offers more legroom and more perks than coach, but fewer frills and lower prices than business class. To promote its version of fourth class, called Premium Economy, China Southern is offering a $1,400 roundtrip fare on its Boeing 777 nonstops between Los Angeles and Guangzhou. Premium Economy offers 40-inch seat pitch, personal video screens and increased aisle and overhead storage space. The fare is valid through May 31.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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