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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MAY 31 TO JUNE 7, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Good news and bad news on fares; alternate carriers will expand dramatically this summer; the State Department's mealy-mouthed terrorism warning; AT&T introduces Internet-capable airport phones; Japan Airlines has a bonus for first- and business-class travelers; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Good News and Bad on Fares
First, the bad news: Both Air Canada and Canada 3000 have imposed a C$15 fuel surcharge each way on all fares. Meanwhile, led by United Airlines, most major U.S. and Canadian carriers have raised some domestic fares by 5 percent. Mostly, the increases are on the lowest-priced, advance-purchase "sale" fares, although the price hikes vary by market. And wait, there's more: Southwest Airlines has quietly added as much as $4 roundtrip to fares on about one-third of its routes. By now you're desperate for some good news and--surprise!--there is some. Northwest Airlines has introduced "BizFlex" domestic first-class fares that are as much as 60 percent below traditional walk-up first-class prices. The new fares aren't easy to book--they require a 14-day advance purchase and an overnight stay and they are capacity controlled--but they have been matched by Northwest's competitors on most routes.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Watching the Other Guys Grow
Major American carriers are eyeing service reductions as traffic plummets, but the alternate airlines are rushing in with new flights this summer. Midway Airlines, for example, is planning a huge expansion from its hub at Raleigh/Durham beginning July 1. It will add two daily flights in each of three markets (Orlando, Tampa and Miami) and an additional daily nonstop in each of four markets (Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Louisville and Hartford). Some of the growth will come at the expense of Midway's New York service, where daily flights to LaGuardia will be reduced to six from the current nine. JetBlue Airways announced it would add flights from its New York/Kennedy hub to New Orleans and Long Beach, California. Twice-daily nonstops to New Orleans begin July 25; introductory fares for travel through September 30 are as low as $69 one-way if tickets are purchased by June 30. The twice-daily nonstop flights to Long Beach begin August 29; one-way fares range from $129-$299. Sun Country Airlines is trying to promote low-fare, transcontinental service via its hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul. If you're willing to connect in MSP, then you can now fly twice daily between New York/Kennedy and three cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. One-way fares are as low as $129. Up in Canada, WestJet Airlines expands on August 7. New nonstop service includes: Saskatoon-Ottawa; Regina-Ottawa; Hamilton-Regina; Calgary-Saskatoon; and Calgary-Regina.

CYBERTRAVELER: Terrorism, Caution and CYA
The conviction on Tuesday of four followers of Osama bin Laden for the 1998 bombing of two U.S. Embassies in Africa led to immediate action from the State Department. It issued a Worldwide Caution warning international travelers "to maintain a high level of vigilance" in the face of a possible resurgence of worldwide terrorism. The problem with the statement is State's mealy-mouthed approach. It frets about "American citizens abroad" being "the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups" with links to Bin Ladin, yet admits that the "U.S. Government is not aware of any specific threat in response to the verdicts." Warnings like that smack more of CYA bureaucracy than genuine concern for travelers.

ON THE FLY: Airport News You Need to Know
AT&T is introducing Internet-capable public telephones and several dozen are already in service at Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta and New York/Kennedy airports. The so-called PP2000i units feature full-size keyboards, 12-inch video screens and a touch pad. Internet access is priced at $1 for the first four minutes and 25 cents for each additional minute. The phones accept credit and calling cards as well as $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills. The Japanese government says it will build a rail system that will link Tokyo's two airports, Narita and Haneda, to the city's extensive mass-transit network. When it is completed in about nine years, the high-speed link will connect Narita to the city's crucial Ueno station in about 40 minutes. The $1.2 billion Terminal Four at Kennedy Airport officially opened to largely positive reviews last week. So did Kennedy's first business center. The Terminal 4 facility features luggage storage, phones, conference rooms, a bank and computer workstation rentals.

STRIKE WATCH: Comair Drags On; Is American Next?
The Comair strike drags on and the airline has preemptively cancelled all flights through Sunday, July 29. No talks between management and striking pilots are scheduled. Meanwhile, American Airlines and its flight attendants have reached a government-pronounced impasse. A 30-day cooling off period is expected to begin today and, if no agreement is reached, the flight attendants would be free to strike on July 1. Presidential intervention--which is considered likely--could delay a strike for an additional 60 days, however.

WEEKLY WONDER: More Later, More Now from JAL
Japan Airlines (800-525-3663) will soon upgrade its first- and business-class cabins. There will be new beds in first class in December and a two-step upgrade to business class: extra seat pitch and more seat recline beginning in October and bed-style seating next year. But for premium-class travelers expecting perks now, there's JAL's revised Executive Plus package. First- and business-class flyers receive: complimentary roundtrip private limousine service to their departure airport; extra checked baggage allowance; free cell-phone rental in Japan; and discounts as high as 75 percent at 34 hotels in seven Japanese cities.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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