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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JUNE 20 TO JUNE 27, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Europe's fares are changing and the restructuring will eventually cross the ocean; federal screeners take over at two more airports; JetBlue rolls out its first frequent-flyer program; Southwest implements a controversial "fat-flyer" policy; and United is closing city ticket offices.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: When Will Europe's Fare Revolution Reach Us?
Like SAS and BMI British Midland before it, British Airways this week announced a dramatic simplification of its domestic and intra-European fares. BA's new structure eliminates Saturday-stay and advance-purchase restrictions on its lowest fares, which have been slashed by as much as 80 percent. The fare restructuring at BA and the other mainline European airlines is in direct response to the success of low-fare European carriers such as Ryanair, EasyJet and Buzz. So now the question is: When will the fare revolution cross the ocean? "How about the end of the year for a time frame," one European executive suggested this week. "And here's a viable scenario: BA, SAS and even British Midland go one step further this fall and begin simplifying and lowering their transatlantic fares. The U.S. carriers will have to match, of course. Then it's a more palatable jump for them to change their domestic fare structures, too."

AIRPORT REPORT: Federal Screeners Appear at Two More Airports
The Transportation Security Administration is far behind in its deployment of federally trained and federally employed screeners at airport checkpoints. Until now, federal screeners were at work only at Baltimore-Washington International. But the feds are scheduled to report for work on Monday at two more airports: Louisville and Mobile. ... About 1,700 close-in parking spots will reopen near the main terminal of Atlanta Hartsfield airport. The spots are within the 300-feet zone the federal government placed off-limits after the September 11 attacks. About 1,300 more close-in spots are scheduled to reopen in August. ... American Airlines says it will begin flying two daily nonstops between Kansas City and New York/LaGuardia on August 1.

CYBERTRAVELER: JetBlue's TrueBlue Might Make You Blue
JetBlue Airways rolled out its long-awaited TrueBlue frequent-flyer program this week and the totally paperless, completely Internet plan was immediately hammered by Tim Winship, the respected editor of FrequentFlier.com, and by Forbes.com. And there seems to be something for everyone to dislike: The airline's points expire each year, earnings levels aren't particularly generous and awards are capacity controlled. And there are other concerns: There is no elite level and no service perks for the most frequent flyers. Worse, travelers who previously registered at the JetBlue Website are not getting retroactive credit for flights, something the airline promised last year. On the flip side, however, there is this: Some program from JetBlue is better than no program. And there's hope: When the JetBlue folks finally realize the path to higher-yield business travel is paved with a better frequency program, they do seem smart enough to adjust and upgrade TrueBlue.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Who Decides If You're Too Fat--and Why?
Southwest Airlines will begin enforcing its "fat flyer" policy next week and that decision has immediately become a national talking point. First the facts: Southwest says travelers who are too large to fit in one of their seats will be required to purchase a second seat. Who decides who is too large? The gate agent on duty. And therein lies the rub--and the possible lawsuits. Southwest has promulgated no objective standards for its two-seat policy, which means individual gate agents will be required to make the call. That means the policy is open to interpretation and potentially discriminatory application. Also problematic: Southwest says travelers singled out under the two-seat policy will be required to purchase a second seat on the spot at walk-up fares. That also seems unfair since those travelers will never have had the opportunity to purchase the required second seat at a discount price. Does Southwest have the right to require travelers to buy two seats if they don't fit in one chair? Probably, since clothing manufacturers and shoemakers are permitted to charge more for extra-large sizes. And a good case could be made that oversized travelers do not have the intrinsic right to freely occupy more than the single seat they purchased. But without a definitive, explainable and fair procedure for implementing the two-seat program, Southwest has probably opened itself up for a spate of lawsuits.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines is closing about two-dozen city ticket offices located in Western states. United closed about 30 offices immediately after September 11. ... Following the lead of several other carriers, Northwest Airlines says it is now charging $10 for issuing paper tickets instead of E-tix. Customers buying full-fare tickets are exempt from the charge. ... Delta Air Lines now sells at-gate upgrades for first-class seats on selected flights at 14 airports. The one-way upgrades cost $40 to $80 based on segment length and are only available if empty seats remain after elite SkyMiles members are upgraded. Upgrades cannot be purchased for frequent-flyer award seats or the lowest discounted fares. ... British Airways says it will test onboard E-mail on 747-400 flights beginning next February.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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