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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR AUGUST 16 TO 23, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: United and American's much-ballyhooed new fares from Chicago are much less appealing than they seem; Midway Airlines flies into bankruptcy and slashes flights; an anonymous passenger-rights website wants your name; JetBlue and Frontier mount fare sales; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Much Ado About Very Little in Chicago
United Airlines announced last week that it had "slashed fares dramatically and eliminated the Saturday-stay restriction" on a few flights from its Chicago/O'Hare hub to eight major business-travel cities. The decision was a targeted, minor response to lower-fare flights from Chicago/Midway offered by American Trans Air, but it generated huge amounts of positive (and totally misleading) coverage from the mainstream media. The facts on United's move--and American's decision to match--show that all of the publicity was much ado about very little. The fares come with 29 lines of restrictions, the prices are only available on a handful of flights beginning next month, they're capacity controlled, require a roundtrip purchase and are only valid if you buy seven days in advance. And in the markets where United and American matched ATA's seven-day fares, they did not match the smaller carrier's one-way walk up fares. Two examples: O'Hare to Los Angeles on United or American still costs $1,285 one way, while ATA is charging $255 from Midway. United and American are charging $823 walk-up between O'Hare and Boston, but ATA is charging $217.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Bankrupt Midway Slashes Service
Midway Airlines
filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday and promptly slashed service on most routes from its Raleigh/Durham hub. Immediately discontinued were all flights to Pittsburgh; Buffalo and Rochester, New York; Dayton, Ohio; and Washington/Dulles. Flights to Los Angeles end Sunday and service to Birmingham, Alabama, ends Monday. Flights to Providence, Rhode Island, and San Jose, California, halt on August 31. Midway's five daily roundtrips to Washington/National will be maintained, but flights to the carrier's 18 other destinations have been reduced. Midway ran into trouble beginning earlier this year when American Airlines, under pressure from its pilots, dropped Midway from its frequent-flyer program. The bankruptcy move was a reaction to what the airline called a "calamitous drop in business traffic" in the last 60 days. The company recorded 13 consecutive profitable quarters before racking up losses of about $15 million during the first six months of 2001.

CYBERTRAVELER: Everyone Wants Your Money and Your E-mail
What do you think of a website that claims to be "fighting for passenger rights across America?" Good idea, eh? So why does this website, PlaneMad.com, keep its creators a secret? Not a single person behind the site or the supposed organization behind PlaneMad is identified. Yet PlaneMad is already soliciting your E-mail address and it apparently is planning to ask next month for a $10 membership fee or contribution. I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in giving my E-mail address to total strangers. And they sure as hell ain't getting my money.

INTERNATIONAL AGENDA: Worldwide Travel News You Need to Know
As expected, Alitalia has joined the Skyteam Alliance fronted by Delta and Air France. That move spells the end of Alitalia's code-share agreement with Northwest. The deal officially ends October 28 and the first casualty is the nonstop from Northwest's Detroit hub to Alitalia's Rome hub. Northwest says it will resume the flight independently in the spring. The Star Alliance has opened its first branded airport lounge at Zurich International Airport. The facility is located in Terminal B and is open to certain customers of Star Alliance. SAS Scandinavian is retrofitting its long-haul fleet and some of its short-haul planes with laptop-computer power outlets. Watch for Swissair to announce later this year that it will introduce lie-flat beds in its international business-class cabins. At the moment, only British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer the bed-like seating in their business classes. Air Tahiti Nui will launch three weekly Paris-Los Angeles-Tahiti flights next month. The carrier already flies three times weekly from Los Angeles to Tahiti.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Two Fare Sales Out West
Want cheap seats on good airlines? Go west, frequent flyer. JetBlue Airways is planning to open a West Coast base on August 29 when it begins service at Long Beach, California. The new flights have also brought a Western fare sale. Prices are as low as $99 one-way on flights to JetBlue's six Western destinations. Tickets must be purchased by August 29 for travel between September 4 and November 11. Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines is offering a Travel America sale with prices ranging from $89 to $169 one way from its hub in Denver. The fares require an off-peak, roundtrip purchase, but no Saturday-night stay. Tickets must be purchased by August 28 for travel through February 13.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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