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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JUNE 7 TO JUNE 14, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Europe will be an incredible summer vacation bargain; ProAir may live to fly again; an invaluable new business-travel news website; Detroit's new midfield terminal may not open on time; and Transportation Secretary Mineta now doubts the United-US Airways merger will be approved.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: A Summer of Bargains in Europe
A confluence of coincidences--the weak euro and the strong U.S. dollar, the economic slowdown and the decline of business travel, the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth scares and a surplus of airline seats--will make European vacation travel an incredible bargain this summer. Airlines and hotels all over Europe are slashing summer rates with abandon, but the deals are most startling in Britain and Ireland. Two examples of summer price cutting in London: as low as $265 a night at the luxurious Athenaeum overlooking Green Park and as low as $140 (including breakfast and VAT tax) at the Hilton Metropole near Paddington Station. The plunging euro (it was near its record low of 82 cents earlier this week) means meals, cab fares, admissions and other local purchases are dirt cheap in the 12 nations where the currency is tied to the euro. In fact, the dollar currently buys more than 2,250 Italian lira, about 7.75 French francs and more than 2.25 German marks. And the dollar hit a 15-year high this week against the British pound, a currency not tied to the euro. As of Wednesday, the pound was only buying US$1.40.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Our Weekly Look at the Nation's Other Carriers
ProAir
, the start-up carrier that was attempting to challenge Northwest in Detroit, may not be dead after all. It was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration last September, but the airline now says it expects to emerge from bankruptcy on July 3 and resume flights from Detroit/City Airport by August 31. Another grounded start-up, Access Air, isn't so lucky. The carrier, based in Des Moines, shut down in February and a bankruptcy judge has ordered the airline's assets liquidated. National Airlines, which has been operating from its Las Vegas hub without disruption while reorganizing in bankruptcy court, is discussing financing with corporate raider Carl Icahn. The former owner of TWA, Icahn has vowed to buy or create another airline, partially to continue a supply of tickets to his Internet site and his travel-packaging firms. The mother of all alternate carriers, Southwest Airlines, is now officially the world's fourth largest carrier in terms of passengers flown. It carried 63.7 million passengers last year, more than all other airlines except Delta (105 million), United (87 million) and American (81 million).

CYBERTRAVELER: All the Business-Travel News That's Fit to Post
Kevin Mitchell, the one-man dynamo behind the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy and lobbying group, is at it again. Every business day he plows through hundreds of newspaper and wire-service stories and posts links to the best on his new Travelogue website. The site also offers a free subscription to a daily alert that will E-mail you a hot link to that day's postings. Mitchell's service is free, it contains a raft of useful stories you otherwise would never see and it all comes in a neat, daily E-mail package. How can you lose? If you travel on business and care about the business of business travel, this is a must-have service.

CONNECTIONS: Airport News You Need to Know
The long-awaited midfield terminal at Detroit/Metro airport may not open on December 9 as currently planned. Airport officials and Northwest Airlines, Metro's largest carrier, will decide next month exactly when to open the $1.2 billion facility. Most observers believe the 97-gate structure, which has been plagued by construction delays and mismanagement, won't open until next spring. Speaking of Detroit/Metro, the Transportation Department is conducting a three-week survey there. DOT wants to know if minority groups are disproportionately selected for additional checked-baggage security screening at the nation's airports. New York City has approved a $5 increase in the flat-rate taxi fare to Manhattan from New York/Kennedy Airport. By the end of the month, the flat rate to any Manhattan destination will be $35. TWA's Ambassadors Club lounges have dropped out of Priority Pass, the program that offers cardholders complimentary access to about 300 airport lounges around the world.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Mineta Casts Doubt on United-US Airways Merger
More than a year after the United-US Airways merger was first announced, most experts are predicting that the two carriers will never combine. The "no merger" side got a huge boost on Tuesday when Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said that even he expected the Justice Department to reject the proposal. Mineta was asked if he thought the merger was dead. His reply? "If I were to read the tea leaves as they are right now, yes." It's important to remember, however, that the Transportation Department has no official stake in the merger decision. The power to approve or reject an airline merger is solely in the hands of the Justice Department. And, officially, the Justice Department has made no public comment, other than to request more information from United, US Airways and American Airlines, which would buy a stake in what is now the US Airways Shuttle if the merger is approved.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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