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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 5 TO 12, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Delta names its new low-fare carrier "Song;" weather as airline dispatchers see it; American sells elite frequent-flyer status; TSA is phasing out at-the-gate boarding passes; a tip for winter flying; and a San Francisco jury sanctions airline discrimination.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Delta's Song of Creative Bankruptcy
Enough about United's imminent bankruptcy, which I cover in a special report elsewhere on the site. Let's talk about the Big Sick Six's creative bankruptcy. You already know about Delta Air Lines' ludicrous plan to launch a new low-fare subsidiary to replace its failed Delta Express service. But do you know what they are going to call the airline? Believe it or not, the name is "Song." Honest, you can't make up stuff like that. Delta executives vehemently deny that they have chosen "Song" as the airline's moniker, of course, but a little checking around the Internet domain name registry reveals an unmistakable trail. The URLs songair.com and songairlines.com have both been registered in recent weeks and the domain servers are listed as yr.com, which is Young & Rubicam, one of Delta's advertising agencies. One more bit of Delta brilliance: The new carrier's slogan apparently will be "Fly for a Song." The URL flyforasong.com was registered at the same time as the others and its domain server is also listed as yr.com.

CYBERTRAVELER: Winter Weather As Airline Dispatchers See It
If you were surprised by this week's big storms, it may be because you weren't watching the weather in the right place. Airline dispatchers use an omnibus weather page at the Web site operated by their professional trade group. I'd bookmark this site on both your desktop and portable computers. It looks like a long, cold, snowy winter.

MILES & POINTS: American Is Selling You Elite Status
American Airlines this week began selling elite-status renewals to current American AAdvantage customers who won't qualify for 2003 renewal under American's traditional miles, segments and points system. Current Gold members who can't hit the 25,000-mile requirement can renew for 2003 for a $395 fee. Platinum-level flyers who can't hit the 50,000-mile level can renew for 2003 for $595. The airline's top-level members, "Executive Platinum" flyers, are not eligible to buy renewals. Non-elite AAdvantage customers aren't eligible, either. The sale of elite credentials is not new--several other airlines have tested the concept in the past--but American is the biggest carrier to offer such a program. American's move has already polarized travelers. Some believe it is an insult to the flyers who "legitimately" traveled their way into elite status. Others note that buying an elite renewal is actually a lot easier than flying cheap, beat-the-deadline "mileage runs" to requalify. Me? I can't help noting that American grandfathered all their elites for free last year.

SECURITY WATCH: Say Good-Bye to At-the-Gate Boarding Passes
Are you one of those business travelers who fly only with carry-on bags and avoid the lines at the ticket counter by getting your boarding pass at the gate? Enjoy the perk while you can: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is phasing out that little time-saver. Sooner than later, you'll be required to get your boarding pass at the ticket counter or other check-in points before the main security checkpoints. The TSA's pilot program for the elimination of at-the-gate boarding passes began quietly several months ago and is now in place at six locations: Terminal Four in Los Angeles; the JetBlue Terminal in Long Beach; Terminal Six at New York/Kennedy; Terminal C at Newark; the Northwest Terminal at Detroit/Metro; and Pier C at New York/LaGuardia. The TSA says it will expand the program to 38 airports in the next six months. But the news isn't all bad. The TSA says unifying all check-in and boarding-pass procedures before security checkpoints will allow it to eliminate the annoying at-the-gate random checks introduced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

WINTER WAKE-UP CALL: Book an Airport Hotel in Snowy Weather
This week's ferocious winter storms should serve as your just-before-winter wake-up call: Always have a back-up hotel room booked at the airport during the snow season. Snowfalls and blizzards are less of a hassle if you've got a hotel room booked in case flights are canceled and the airport shuts down. While other snowbound frequent flyers scramble for rooms and are reduced to sleeping on chairs at their departure gate, you'll have a warm and cozy place to spend the night. How to do it? Before leaving home or checking out of your hotel, check the forecast. If a storm is predicted, make a reservation at an airport hotel. Most will hold a room until at least 4 p.m. without charge if you guarantee the reservation with a credit card. If it snows and you're stuck at the airport, check into the room and relax. If not, fly away. But be sure to cancel your reservation, both as a courtesy to the hotel and to ensure that your credit card won't be billed for the unused room night.

THE PARTING SHOT: The American Way Takes a Judicial Hit
Submitted for your consideration: A jury in San Francisco decided last week that United Airlines did not violate discrimination laws when it refused passage to a Pakistani man at San Francisco airport on September 22, 2001. The San Francisco Superior Court jury found that United had discriminated against the prospective passenger, M. Ahsan Baig, but that the airline was justified in its action. Baig, who works in San Francisco, was trying to board a United flight to Philadelphia. Why did United refuse to let Baig take his flight? A passenger accused him of exchanging glances with a person who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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