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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
SPECIAL YEAR-END 2001 BRIEFING


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

A note to readers: Here are some of the best items published in The Tactical Traveler during 2001. The original publication dates are noted at the end of each item. Among the items: How to buy two adjacent seats in coach; Northwest slashes legroom in first class; Congress grants airlines $5 billion (costing every American $17.85), then regrets its decision; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Two-Seat Scenario
The world's airlines are giving away the proverbial store--but only if you're willing to wedge yourself into the least appealing coach seat, prepared to book far in advance and stay over on a Saturday. Well, here's one way to beat the system: Buy two of the cheap seats and create your own private, comfortable world. With the lowest-priced coach seats now selling for as little as one-twelfth the price of a premium-class fare, buying two seats is an incredible bargain. And while occupying two coach seats isn't as comfortable as sitting in first or business class, the two-seat scenario offers plenty of personal space and a modicum of privacy. But be warned: You can't just purchase two tickets under your name, walk up to the ticket counter and claim your spaces. You or your travel agent must--repeat, must--call the airline in advance, alert it to your intentions, and then buy the tickets via phone. Most carriers will code the second ticket purchase as an "extra seat"--some will even assign it to a Mr. E. Seat--and tie it to your itinerary. And be sure to arrange for advance seat assignments--the seats must be next to each other, of course--at the time you call the airline. (Originally published on September 6, 2001.)

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Frontier Finds Its Niche
The second incarnation of Frontier Airlines launched seven years ago and, astonishing more than a few critics, it has developed into a serious alternative to United Airlines at their shared Denver hub. As United's in-flight service and on-time performance has tanked, Frontier has expanded dramatically: It now flies to 23 cities, it carried more than 3 million passengers in the last 12 months, and its monthly traffic has grown steadily while United's domestic passenger count has declined for 11 consecutive months. And, by the way, Frontier is making money--$54.9 million last year--and United isn't. "There's no doubt we've gotten new customers based on United's problems," says Tom Allee, Frontier's director of national sales. "But my strongest selling tool is pricing. I've got great service, good people and I'm 30-to-40 percent lower than Brand X" on business-travel fares. (Originally published on July 12, 2001.)

CYBERTRAVELER: There Used to Be an Airport Right Here
Stapleton Airport was shuttered when Denver International opened in 1995, but one crucial question remained: What do you do with a 4,700-acre former airport located just a few minutes from downtown Denver? You can now find a few of the answers at http://www.stapletondenver.com. Forest City Enterprises, a well-known developer whose portfolio includes a handful of hotels, is sketching out a $4 billion plan to redevelop the airport site as a mixed-use community. There will be 12,000 homes, 3 million square feet of retail space, 10 million square feet of office/industrial space and 1,100 acres of parks and open space. (Originally published on March 15, 2001.)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Hilton Finds a Niche in the Garden
With less public attention than it probably wants, Hilton Hotels has been building an interesting new mid-priced lodging chain called Hilton Garden Inn. About 100 have opened since 1995 and another 100 are in the pipeline. Most are in the suburbs, but Hilton Garden Inns are now beginning to appear in center-city locations, too. After stays in a half-dozen Garden Inn outlets, I find Hilton's proposition of "focused service" quite appealing. Rooms are modestly furnished, but extremely well-equipped: a work desk and an ergonomic desk chair; adjustable lighting; desk-height electrical outlets; two-line phones with dataports; and high-speed Internet access. They also have a microwave oven, coffeemaker, refrigerator, and room-service dining. The hotels all have a bar, casual restaurant, fitness room, pool and a functional, 24-hour business center/computer room. Best of all, a Pavilion Pantry is located in the hotel lobby; it operates 24 hours a day and sells sundries, beverages, snacks and an array of packaged, refrigerated and frozen microwavable foods. "You're able to get yourself a meal or a snack day or night," explains Bill Fortier, Hilton's senior vice president of franchise development. "Guests love coming down to the lobby, grabbing a bag of popcorn, and microwaving it in their rooms," he adds. Depending on location, nightly rates at Hilton Garden Inns range from $75-$150. (Originally published on February 8, 2001.)

ON THE FLY: 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. (Originally published on September 6, 2001.)

SEX AND THE AIRPORT: Gee, That Wasn't on the Signboard
Israeli police last week said that they found a naked German woman prowling the parking facility at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport looking for sex. The police said the "beautiful blonde" had time to kill before flying home, so she decided to have sex with passing men. Meanwhile, a Malaysian politician complained last week that prostitutes are propositioning travelers as soon as they arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. "I do not want [the airport] to become popular as a place to get fun via sex," complained Senator Ghazi Ramli. (Originally published on August 23, 2001.)

THE BILL: Your Share of the Airline Bailout Is $17.85
The airlines got their bailout on September 23, but the terms are just now seeping into the national consciousness. The nation's passenger and cargo airlines get a $5 billion tax infusion with virtually no strings attached. It's not a loan, but an outright gift. Not a penny is required to go to improve security and not a dime is earmarked for the almost 100,000 workers who have been laid off since September 15. According to the calculations of Aviation Daily, individual carriers will receive from $970,000 to $880,000,000 each. And if you're having trouble getting your mind around the $5 billion figure, try it this way: Every man, woman and child in the nation will pay the airlines a one-time fee of $17.85. There's no word on whether the airlines will send a tax collector directly to your door to collect. (Originally published September 27, 2001.)

BUYER'S REGRET: The Airlines Act Like Airlines
After rushing to hand the nation's airlines $5 billion in tax dollars, U.S. politicians are beginning to realize that they were snookered. And they are shocked that airlines, when given the chance, are acting exactly like the airlines that business travelers have come to despise. Consider Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), who discovered that the airline cutbacks have basically wiped the Arkansas capital of Little Rock off the route map. "If I had known [they were] simply going to take the money, then announce they would no longer serve my constituents, I might have thought again about the vote I cast," she admitted. Then there is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who should know better since he sits on the House Aviation Subcommittee. He was enraged because United Airlines, while pleading poverty after September 11, nevertheless found millions to pay for French planes for its new corporate-jet subsidiary. "It's outrageous," he sputtered. "On the one hand they say they need an immediate cash infusion from the government, no strings attached, and on the other they are wiring money to France." (Originally published on October 4, 2001.)

VERBATIM: How The Other Half Flies
Maybe the only way to get better airline service is to get elected President and begin riding Air Force One. Buried in an otherwise smarmy National Geographic special that aired on PBS were pithy observations from two of Air Force One's most recent frequent flyers. Former President George H.W. Bush fondly remembers his four-year-stint as Air Force One's passenger-in-chief by saying flights operated 100 percent on-time and his luggage was never lost. And President Bill Clinton, interviewed just weeks before his term of office ended in January, suggested his "Christian bearing will be tested by a return to commercial air traffic." (Originally published on July 19, 2001.)

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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