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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JULY 10 TO JULY 17, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: JetBlue adds legroom in coach and WestJet adds in-flight TV; American lowers--and raises--fares on four transcon routes; Hong Kong is getting its flights back; New Jersey is adding a hotel tax; several fancy hotels are changing management; McDonald's adds Wi-Fi; Hilton tests business-travel performance; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: More Perks From the Low-Fare Airlines
Bitter-enders in the business-travel community insist they don't fly discount carriers because the low-fare airlines don't offer enough perks. But with the legacy carriers slashing their offerings and the discounters offering more perks than ever along with the low fares, the bitter-enders are hard-pressed to tell the difference. After more than a year of discussion, for example, JetBlue Airways will rip the last row of seats from its fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft. That means about two-thirds of each plane's 156 remaining seats will have 34 inches of seat room. The first nine rows in each cabin will continue to have JetBlue's standard of 32 inches of seat pitch. "We're making the back 'the new front'," one JetBlue official joked. The reconfiguration begins in September and will be complete by mid-November, the airline says. Meanwhile, live, in-flight, seatback television--an amenity pioneered by JetBlue--is moving to Canada. And what carrier is adding it? Certainly not bloated Air Canada. No, the television service will be offered by the largest Canadian discount carrier, WestJet, which says installation will begin in the fall. About two dozen channels of programming will be provided by Bell ExpressVu, Canada's largest satellite-TV company.

CYBERTRAVELER: Wish I'd Written These...
Keith Alexander in The Washington Post explains why Black & Decker Corp. has almost quintupled the number of flights it has booked with AirTran this year. ... Dave Grossman at USAToday.com relates the hilarious tale of laptop-toting frequent flyers scrambling for power outlets at airport gates. ... You'll have to be a subscriber to FT.com to read this piece, but it's worth it: Justin Marozzi discusses how the fear of terrorism now overshadows the traditional and ultra-gracious hospitality that travelers find in Islamic countries.

FARE WATCH: American's Fares Goes Down--and Up--on Transcons
Immediately after JetBlue entered the New York/Kennedy-San Diego market last month, incumbent carrier American Airlines dropped its walk-up coach fares to the JetBlue standard of $299 one-way. That makes a total of four New York-California routes where American sells coach seats at $299. American flies Boeing B-757s on all four routes--Kennedy-Long Beach; Kennedy-John Wayne/Orange County and Kennedy-San Jose are the others--and the airline will soon cut seat pitch back to 31 inches on those planes. Oh, one other thing that American hasn't mentioned: After capping first-class fares on the routes at $599 one-way in May, American has now raised front-cabin prices to $699 one-way.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Hong Kong Gets Its Flights Back
After months of turmoil caused by fears of the SARS virus, Hong Kong seems to have turned the corner. The World Health Organization has taken Hong Kong off its "do not travel" list and major carriers are beginning to restore their flights to the city. United Airlines resumed flying between San Francisco and Hong Kong last week. It is offering three weekly flights for the remainder of this month and will restore daily service in August. United will also resume flying from its Chicago/O'Hare hub next month and begin with four weekly flights. Meanwhile, Continental will restore its New York/Newark-Hong Kong service on August 1 with four weekly flights. And Hong Kong's hometown carrier, Cathay Pacific, is rapidly rebuilding its worldwide network. It expects to fly about 70 percent of is normal capacity in July and will be at 90 percent in August. Cathay's flights from New York and San Francisco are now back to daily operation; service from Vancouver, the airline's Canada gateway, is now at 11 weekly flights.

IN THE LOBBY: Like Death, More Taxes and Flag Changes Are Inevitable
Scrambling to close a huge budget deficit, the state of New Jersey will impose a 7 percent tax on all hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. The tax goes into effect on August 1. The measure also permits municipalities to add an additional 1 percent tax on lodging. Most communities are rushing to enact the local tax by next month. ... The Dorchester Group has purchased and is now managing the best hotel in Milan, the Principe di Savoia. The 404-room property was once a CIGA property and has most recently been owned and operated by Starwood as part of its Luxury Collection. ... An affiliate of Fairmont hotels has purchased the Four Seasons Olympic in Seattle and Fairmont will take over management of the 450-room hotel in the fall. The property was once a Westin, too. ... Loews Hotels is now managing the former Renaissance in Beverly Hills. The 137-room hotel on Beverwil Drive is now called the Loews Beverly Hills.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Diners Club is offering a summer promotion with British Airways. Until August 31, Club Rewards points will be worth double when converted to British Airways Executive Club miles. ... One of America's most famous "destination" restaurants, Le Francais in suburban Chicago, has closed. At one time, the dining room in Wheeling, Illinois, was considered the best French restaurant in America.

TECH TALK: You Deserve Some Wi-Fi Today
What's good for Starbucks is apparently good for McDonald's. The fast-food chain says 75 of its restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area are now wired for high-speed wireless access. They are accessible via the Wayport Wi-Fi network. McDonald's says many of its New York and Chicago restaurants will soon offer Wi-Fi, too. ... Lufthansa has begun showing a new 30-minute news program created by Euronews on its long-haul routes. Most notable is the time frame: New editions will be compiled at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Central European Time each day, which will make them almost real-time when shown in flight. ... Hilton Hotels has launched what it calls a "field study" to track how frequent travel affects behavior, stress and personal performance. Business travelers can fill out an online survey and a select group of volunteers will wear a wrist device to measure daytime activity levels, nighttime sleep quality and other factors.

THE PARTING SHOT: The Stars and Stripes (and Grapes) Forever
Let's be honest. Lake Tahoe isn't exactly a magnet for oenophiles. But the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe's Toast to America promotion features bottles from every state in the nation. As you might expect, the 50-state list at the 424-room resort's Sierra Cafe has some real clunkers. But let's keep in mind that this promotion is about breadth, not vintage Burgundy. Besides, did you even know that Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska had wineries? And don't you want to try the Cabernet Sauvignon from Nevada's Pahrump Valley Vineyards?

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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