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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MARCH 27 TO APRIL 3, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: The annual spring/summer schedule changes and the Big Six's massive cutbacks will collide this weekend and next week; AirTran and JetBlue keep expanding; Continental gets its comeuppance in Cleveland; United is cutting back the perks of its Mileage Plus program; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Prepare for Schedule Chaos Next Week
The annual ritual of major airlines implementing their "spring/summer" schedules begins this weekend and it will be complicated by the massive cutbacks that the Big Six carriers have been announcing during the last ten days. Continental, American and Northwest airlines announced their cuts last week. This week it was Delta (a 12 percent capacity cut, most notably on international service from its New York/Kennedy and Atlanta hubs) and US Airways (domestic, last-flight-out cuts at its Pittsburgh and Charlotte hubs as well as convoluted reductions of international flights) and sporadic flight cuts announced by British Airways, KLM and Japan Airlines. "I can't tell what's flying and what's not," one travel agent told me Wednesday. "The last weekend of March is always confusing. This year it's just chaos. It would have been nice if the [mainline U.S.] carriers had done their homework and looked at the weakness of their loads before the war started. All this should have been predictable. Everyone but the airlines knew a war was coming."

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: The Other Guys Keep on Growing
While the Big Six continue to wither financially and slash their flight schedules, the alternate carriers are prospering and expanding. AirTran Airways, for example, is growing rapidly and its newest routes are point-to-point services that do not involve the carrier's Atlanta hub. On May 21, AirTran launches two daily nonstops between Philadelphia and Boston. On June 4, the airline goes daily with a nonstop between Dayton and Orlando. And AirTran adds two daily Milwaukee-Baltimore/Washington flights on June 14. All the routes will be served with two-class Boeing 717s. ... Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways continues its apparently unstoppable transcontinental expansion by launching a daily nonstop on June 25 between its New York/Kennedy hub and San Diego. A second nonstop will be added on July 14. Introductory fares start as low as $119 one-way; regular fares will range from $139 to $299.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Gordo Gets His Comeuppance in Cleveland
Two weeks ago, we covered Continental chief executive Gordon Bethune's outrageous comments about last-minute business travel. Good old Gordo said that, "If you have to be in San Francisco for a presentation tomorrow, you are going. If I say it's $1,200 or it's $800, you are still going." Continental actually charges $1,159 one way for a walk-up flight between its Cleveland hub and San Francisco--and I showed you a half-dozen ways to avoid paying Continental's rapacious fare. Well, guess what? It seems that Cleveland flyers have been flipping Gordo and his fares the bird for quite some time. In fact, Bethune rolled into Cleveland this week and warned business leaders that they'd better start flying Continental again or he was going to shut its hub. "We're not going to go out and lose money providing services that people don't want," he thundered before a meeting of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association. "If you don't want it, then fine. We won't give it to you." Bethune accused Cleveland businesses of snubbing Continental for discount carriers flying from nearby Akron-Canton Airport. The only person impressed by Gordo's outburst was association president Dennis Eckart. Quivering before the Great Gordo, Eckart said, "We have to put business travelers in Continental seats to preserve our hub status."

MILES & POINTS: Mileage Plus Begins to Feel the Pinch
United Airlines has insisted that its bankruptcy wouldn't affect its well-regarded Mileage Plus program. If you believed that, then you also must have believed in United's totally discredited plan for emerging from bankruptcy. Either way, here's the latest news. Effective immediately, Mileage Plus members can no longer trade in their miles for Hilton HHonors points. Why? United has to pay Hilton whenever a Mileage Plus member trades miles for points--and the carrier is also worried about a rush of conversions as the airline's financial position deteriorates. United is also cutting back on its Mileage Plus dining program. Members will no longer be able to use miles to pay for dining certificates. Why? Cash outflow. United must pay the dining program's administrator, iDine, whenever a member cashes miles to get meal vouchers.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Airlines continue to extend interline privileges to their E-tickets. Alaska Airlines now interlines with Continental Airlines. And Delta Air Lines now interlines E-tix with American Airlines. ... More than 1,500 additional covered parking spaces are due to open Friday (March 28) at Dallas/Love Field. ... American Eagle will dramatically cut commuter service at New York/Kennedy, a hub airport for American Airlines, Eagle's parent. Effective May 1, Eagle will drop service to Albany, Baltimore/Washington, Cleveland, Hartford, Pittsburgh and Providence. ... Continental now offers online check-in for passengers traveling without checked luggage. ... The runway repairs are complete at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport and traffic should be back to normal. ... Two airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last week: Hawaiian Airlines and Avianca, Colombia's primary international carrier.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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