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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MAY 2 TO MAY 9, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Airlines offer premium-class deals; close-in airport parking returns; ATA launches Charlotte flights and US Airways retaliates; Amex raises Platinum Card fees; Air Canada launches, uh, Zip; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Discounting Reaches Business-Class Cabins
The current chaotic airline pricing system is nearing its final and long-overdue collapse. Want proof? More and more carriers are beginning to offer public discounts on premium-class travel, the last bastion of full-fare-or-nothing pricing. The latest premium-class offer is from Virgin Atlantic, which flies to London from nine U.S. airports. On Wednesday, it slashed summer business-class fares to as low as $2,999 roundtrip, a dramatic reduction from the unrestricted price of about $7,400. The restrictions on Virgin's Upper Class fare sale read like the rules for cheap coach seats: tickets are nonrefundable; they require a Saturday-stay and six-night minimum stay; capacity is limited and tickets must be purchased by August 15 for travel between June 15 and September 15. Virgin's move follows recent public business-class sales by Continental, Delta, Northwest and KLM. "The pricing dike is about to burst," one airline pricing chief told me last week, before the Virgin move was announced. "When we start fiddling with business- and first-class fares, it's not long before we begin selling [premium seats] on the other auction sites. And that's our admission that we've totally lost control of pricing."

AIRPORT REPORT: Close-In Parking Starts to Return
The Department of Transportation banned parking within 300 feet of airport terminals in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Now, however, DOT officials say it will permit close-in parking at many smaller airports. DOT mentioned no facilities by name, so check with your own airport to see if close-in parking has returned. ... The government is under a November 19 deadline to make all security screeners a part of a federalized workforce controlled by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The first 200 federal screeners began work this week at Piers A and B at Baltimore-Washington. The federal screeners replace employees of Argenbright, the disgraced private security firm. ... Speaking of screeners, the TSA has set starting salaries at $31,000 a year. Some experienced investigators will make as much as $83,900. That scale has raised hackles with some members of Congress. Of course, a Congressperson earns about $150,000 a year and you have to wonder who is doing more valuable and important work. ... Meanwhile, the TSA has issued a new list of carry-on contraband. Baseball bats, bullwhips, hockey sticks, brass knuckles, golf clubs, pool cues and spear guns are still definitely verboten. But nail clippers, eyelash curlers, tweezers and safety razors are now permitted as carry-on.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Our Regular Look at America's Other Carriers
The major carriers are drowning in their own red ink, but they're never too busy to harass an alternate airline. This week's case in point and victim: American Trans Air, which announced on April 15 that it would begin three daily weekday nonstops between its Chicago-Midway hub and Charlotte. ATA has set the Midway-Charlotte launch date for July 18 and has been offering introductory one-way fares as low as $69. Well, US Airways, which hubs in Charlotte, would have none of it. On April 26, US Airways announced it would send its commuter carrier, US Airways Express, into action against ATA. Beginning July 7, US Airways Express will launch three daily regional-jet flights between Charlotte and Midway. ... Expect JetBlue Airways to launch its frequent-flyer program, TrueBlue, within the next 30 days. But don't hold your breath: JetBlue has been promising, then delaying, its frequency program for almost a year.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: La-La Land Gets More Flights
Think everything odd comes from Los Angeles? Here is some authentic aeronautic proof. Air Tahiti Nui, the three-year-old Tahitian airline, will launch twice-weekly flights from LAX to Paris on Sunday, May 5. The airline will use three-class Airbus A-340s on the route. And El Al of Israel is now flying three times weekly between Los Angeles and Toronto. Things really are different on the Left Coast. ... American Airlines is resuming its Caribbean expansion plans. On June 15, it launches weekly 737 flights between Boston and Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands. On the same day, it will also launch twice-weekly 737 flights between Boston and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Beginning June 1, American Express is raising the annual fee for the American Express Platinum Card to $395 a year. That's a hefty hike considering it currently costs $300 and many cardholders feel that Platinum Card customer service and benefits for business travelers have been curtailed since Amex launched its $1,000-a-year Centurion card several years ago. ... Delta Air Lines now charges $10 for issuing a paper ticket if an electronic ticket is available on the itinerary. The fee is waived for SkyMiles Medallion members, customers purchasing a full-fare ticket or tickets issued by a travel agent. Several other carriers also charge the odious fee, but only Delta has the chutzpah to call it a measure to "reduce hassle and add convenience for its customers." ... And then there's Air Canada, which is starting another discount carrier. Based in Calgary, the new discounter will launch this summer with the name ZIP Air. I won't make the obvious joke--or even point out that no one at Air Canada apparently was aware that "zip" doesn't only connote speed. But it does make you wonder how many airline executives can actually walk and chew gum at the same time...

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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