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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR OCTOBER 9 TO OCTOBER 16, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: US Airways blinks in Pittsburgh; JetBlue adds Boston service; Northwest contracts in Memphis; Amtrak scales back Acela service; a slew of new bonus-mile promotions; strange doings at airport security; an airline apologist in Congress admits the Big Six are "brain dead;" and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: US Airways Blinks in Pittsburgh
Surprising no one, US Airways has blinked in the battle of Pittsburgh. When it abruptly cancelled its gate leases just before exiting bankruptcy in March, US Airways management adamantly insisted it was prepared to leave its Pittsburgh hub on January 5, the effective date of the lease terminations. It then spent six months stridently demanding huge concessions from Pittsburgh airport authorities and gigantic subsidies from Pennsylvania politicians. When the airport and the politicians didn't immediately pony up, US Airways unleashed a torrent of insults and invective. But this week US Airways quietly caved. In a letter to U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), US Airways chief executive David Siegel said the airline would publish a January flight schedule that "is consistent with the current Pittsburgh schedule of approximately 400 flights a day." That means US Airways will operate through the first half of 2004 with very few changes in Pittsburgh. And here's an interesting sidebar: Should US Airways and the airport not strike a new deal before January 5, the airline's costs at Pittsburgh will rise because the favorably priced leases it rejected in March will no longer be in effect.

MILES & POINTS: The Fall Offers Are Flowing
Desperate to blunt the inroads of AirTran at its hometown airport of Atlanta, Delta Air Lines is offering double SkyMiles miles on flights between Hartsfield and 49 airports. The promotion lasts through December 15, but is only valid if you register and only if you have a Georgia address on your SkyMiles account. ... Conrad Hotels, the luxury arm of Hilton, is offering triple airline miles when you book a stay at any of its hotels via ConradHotels.com. The promotion is valid until December 31 when you use booking code MG. ... American Airlines is offering up to 60,000 bonus AAdvantage Miles when you fly on transatlantic flights or to Japan. You earn up to 30,000 miles after three coach roundtrips (some low-fare categories are excluded) and up to 60,000 miles in first class, business class or full-fare economy. The promotion requires registration (code JPN04 for Japan, EUR04 for Europe) and runs between October 15 and March 31. ... Diners Club is offering a 25 percent bonus when you convert Club Rewards points to Northwest Airlines WorldPerks miles before November 30. You must register using code 8325.

RIDING THE RAILS: Acela Slows Down and Scales Back
Amtrak is pulling back on its high-speed Acela service, which operates in the Boston-Washington corridor. Since the trains run late nearly 30 percent of the time, the rail service is trying to get back on schedule by eliminating some stops and adding a few minutes to the schedules. It will also slash weekend service in half in an attempt to create more time for train maintenance. On New York-Washington trains, the New Carrollton, Maryland, stop will be eliminated. Alternate trains will also bypass Metropark, New Jersey, and the stop at BWI Airport. On the New York-Boston run, about a third of the Acela runs will bypass the New Haven, Connecticut, station. The changes take effect on October 27.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
Northwest Airlines will cut capacity at its Memphis hub by 16 percent and eliminate about 45 daily flights beginning January 6. ... Aloha Airlines and United Airlines now offer interlined E-tickets. ... The roadways at Los Angeles Airport are under repair until at least October 23. Expect late-night diversions and disruptions. ... Austrian Airlines passengers can now rent mobile phones from the carrier for $5.95 a day plus the cost of outgoing calls. The phones can be delivered before departure anywhere in the United States. ... JetBlue Airways, which announced a 3-for-2 stock split this week, is opening service to Boston in January. The carrier will fly to three Florida destinations (Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando) and Denver. Introductory Florida fares start at $79 one-way; Denver fares start at $99 one-way.

SECURITY WATCH: You Bring It, You Lose It
The Transportation Security Administration has signed a contract with a Washington-area company to handle the disposal of items confiscated from passengers at security checkpoints at the nation's 429 commercial airports. That means chances are you won't get a contraband item back if you try to carry it through security. ... Speaking of contraband items, TSA agents arrested a passenger at Newark this week when he attempted to clear security with an eight-inch dagger hidden in the cavity of one of his sneakers. The man was scheduled to travel with a party of six on a flight to Los Angeles. None of the other five travelers were permitted to fly. ... About a dozen flights were delayed at Denver last weekend when an FBI agent misplaced his gun and his agency credentials. After a 30-minute search, the gun was found in a bag that the G-man left behind at an airport restaurant.

THE PARTING SHOT: Now He Tells Us...
One of the major reasons that the Big Six have been able to grab upwards of $8 billion of taxpayer money during the past two years has been the unflagging advocacy of Florida Republican John Mica, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. But after draining the coffers and giving away our tax dollars, Mica is apparently having second thoughts. The major carriers are "brain dead," he said in a speech to airline interests in Washington last week. "You can only feed dinosaurs for so long...you guys haven't found that out yet." Worst of all, Mica now admits that at least some of the most recent bailout was pork-barrel politics. "Some of that was justified and some of it was pigs at the trough...Some others happened to be in the right time at the right place." Mica did not say where taxpayers go to get their money back from the Big Six, however.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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