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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JULY 5 TO JULY 12, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Northwest adds seats--but reduces legroom--in its domestic first-class cabins; our weekly report on America's alternate airlines; Chicago mayor Richard Daley has grandiose--and expensive--plans for O'Hare; several major international airlines face strikes this month; and much more

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Less Room in First Class at Northwest
Upgrading more but enjoying it less on your Northwest Airlines domestic flights? That's because Northwest has been quietly squeezing more seats into the first-class cabins of its domestic fleet. That increases your chance for an upgrade. But in a gambit only Northwest's top management could concoct, the carrier also has drastically reduced the legroom at each first-class seat. On Northwest's workhorse DC-9s, for example, seat pitch at most first-class seats has been slashed to a paltry 34 inches, less legroom than you're getting on some coach seats at American. Meanwhile, there is now only 35 inches of legroom in first class on Northwest's A319s and just 36 inches on its A320s. By contrast, most carriers offer 38 or 39 inches of legroom on their narrow-body domestic first-class jets. To view Northwest's knee-crushing specifics, surf to the airline's tell-all seat maps.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: America's Other Carriers Keep on Expanding
The major carriers are cutting flights, retiring jets and instituting hiring freezes, but the nation's alternate airlines keep on adding new routes. Spirit Airlines, for example, launched all-coach flights between Chicago/O'Hare and Atlantic City this week. It also added a second daily nonstop between O'Hare and Los Angeles. And on November 8, Spirit launches a daily nonstop flight between O'Hare and Tampa. Vanguard Airlines is building its Kansas City hub and will launch daily nonstop service to Reno/Lake Tahoe on August 12. The MD-80 service will offer business and coach classes. Pan American Airways, the very distant progeny of the original Pan Am, says it will return to Miami, where its namesake once maintained a huge hub. Daily nonstop service to Orlando/Sanford and San Juan begins next month using all-coach B-727s.

THE AIRPORT REPORT: What's New? A Slew of Airport Hotels
Maybe it's just coincidence, but a slew of new airport hotels have opened during the past few weeks. About a mile from New York/Kennedy, for example, a 166-room Courtyard By Marriott has opened its doors. The 14-story property includes a restaurant and 900 square feet of meeting space. Prices start at $149 a night. A mile from Charlotte/Douglas airport, an 86-suite Hawthorn Suites property has opened. It offers free breakfast and complimentary airport shuttle service. And two Hilton Garden Inn properties have opened near major airports. A 158-room version opened about a mile from Baltimore/Washington airport and a 110-room property has opened at Nashville airport.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News Your Need to Know
Alitalia, the struggling state-owned Italian carrier, has been cleared to conclude a marketing agreement with Air France. That means Alitalia is also likely to join Air France in the SkyTeam alliance with Delta and eventually abandon its code-share and frequent-flyer deals with Continental and Northwest. Speaking of Continental and Northwest, they have opened a joint airline lounge at Chicago/O'Hare airport. The 6,000-square-foot club is located in Terminal 2 across from Gate E4. Speaking of O'Hare (nice how this is working out, eh?), Chicago mayor Richard Daley wants to spend $6 billion to build a new runway, 55 more gates, two new highways and four new railway lines at the nation's most important hub airport. That $6 billion estimate only covers the runways and gates, however. Experts think it would take at least $6 billion more to complete all of Daley's grandiose schemes. It would also require the demolition of hundreds of homes and businesses in the communities surrounding O'Hare. And speaking of losers, Westin has lost the management contract for both of its Singapore properties and its Bangkok hotel.

STRIKE WATCH: American Settles, But the World's in Turmoil
American Airlines and its flight attendants reached a tentative agreement last Saturday, just hours before President Bush would have delayed a strike by 60 days with the imposition of a Presidential Emergency Board. The fallout of a strike and financial woes at bankrupt Aerolineas Argentina has led the airline's Spanish owners to ground most of the former Argentine flag carrier's fleet. A bitter dispute between Cathay Pacific and its pilots led to a breakdown of talks over the weekend. Industrial action in the form of unannounced slowdowns and sickouts are now expected. In fact, at least one Vancouver-Hong Kong flight was cancelled last week when the flight crew didn't appear. Iberia and its pilots are also at loggerheads. The pilots are expected to conduct one-day strikes on most Tuesdays in July and August. Iberia was forced to cancel about a quarter of its schedule this past Tuesday.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Summer Rates at Eight U.S. Sofitel Hotels
Big-city hotels that cater to business travelers always have trouble filling their rooms in the summer, but this year's economic downturn has made hoteliers more anxious than usual. The result? Better deals than usual. A notable example: Sofitel (800-SOFITEL), the French chain that operates eight properties in major U.S. business centers, has cut summer rates to as low as $119 a night. The Summer Invitation prices are valid until September 4 and include breakfast and 1,000 American AAdvantage frequent-flyer miles.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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