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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 4 TO 11, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: The Airbus A340-500 debuts with startling in-flight configurations from Emirates and Singapore airlines; Alaska Airlines cuts food service; AirTran will match your elite frequent-flyer credentials; the cost of letting the bedbugs bite; notable hotels open in London, Houston and Turin, Italy; the dollar tanks in Europe again; labor versus management at US Airways' hub in Philadelphia; and much, much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Airbus A340-500 Is Airborne--and Different
Dubai-based Emirates this week launched the world's newest aircraft, the long-haul Airbus A340-500, and you need only visit the carrier's Web presentation to see the plane's stunning new configuration. Emirates has outfitted the 258-seat aircraft--the first ones are flying the Dubai-Sydney route--with a dozen first-class suites. Installed at a cost of about $125,000 each, the suites have closing doors, massage-enabled leather seats that convert into beds, dining tables, built-in vanity tables with mirrors and 19-inch video monitors with 500 channels of programming. U.S.-originating passengers will get their first look at the A340-500 in February when Singapore Airlines launches its two-class, 181-seat version on the ultra-long-haul Los Angeles-Singapore route. SIA's so-called LeaderShip will have two inflight lounges, 64 business-class beds and 117 "executive coach" seats that are 20 inches wide with 37 inches of legroom. Emirates brings its A340-500s to the United States in June, when it launches its New York/Kennedy-Dubai nonstops.

INTERNATIONAL INTINERARY: Beyond Terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan
British Airways dropped flights between London/Heathrow and Islamabad, Pakistan, immediately after the 9/11 terrorism attacks. The airline resumed flights this week after the 27-month hiatus and confirmed reports that the route had been dropped because of "a specific terrorist threat" to the service. ... Speaking of overcoming terrorism, Ariana Afghan Airlines has resumed domestic service for the first time in more than 20 years. The carrier now flies weekly between Kabul and Kandahar. Ariana suspended domestic service in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country. ... Trust me on this one: A new aviation treaty between Hong Kong and Britain somehow clears the way for Cathay Pacific to fly between New York and London and for Virgin Atlantic Airways to fly between Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia. Both carriers say the routes will launch early next year.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Philadelphia Story, US Airways Style
Over the years, Southwest Airlines has effortlessly driven US Airways out of the intra-California market and intra-Florida markets and its Baltimore-Washington hub. So it's no wonder that US Airways management is now in a tizzy given Southwest's imminent arrival at US Airways' Philadelphia hub. US Airways' defense plan? Judging by a letter from US Airways president David Siegel published at TripRights.com, the airline wants still more concessions from employees, who have already taken numerous pay and pension cuts while past and current management teams paid themselves lavishly. The unions' response? Judging by a letter from Perry Hayes of the Association of Flight Attendants, labor has given enough. "Employees have been led to slaughter on two previous occasions and it is unlikely they are willing to head down that path again," wrote Hayes.

DOLLAR WATCH: The Dollar Redefines 'Weak' in Europe
The dollar hit new lows in Europe this week, where it is now trading around $1.23 against the euro. How bad is that? Here's one example: A €100 meal cost about $85 as recently as 18 months ago, when one euro was only worth about 85 U.S. cents. Now that same €100 meal will cost you more than $120.

IN THE LOBBY: The Cost of Letting the Bedbugs Bite
A federal appeals court in Washington has upheld a jury award of $372,000 in punitive damages against a Chicago hotel that repeatedly rented bedbug-infested rooms. The Motel 6 on East Ontario Street (now operated as a Red Roof Inn) admitted during the original trial that it knew of the bedbug problem. In upholding the punitive damages, the federal appeals court judge noted that the hotel refused to have the entire property exterminated for only $500. ... The owners of London's much-admired Cranley Hotel have renovated a row of townhouses and opened them as the Royal Park Hotel. Most notable is the property's location: in Lancaster Gate near the Bayswater Road, just a few steps from Paddington Station, the terminus of the popular Heathrow Express train to Heathrow Airport. Introductory rates start at £155 plus tax per night. ... In Houston, the Hilton Americas hotel opened today opposite the George Brown Convention Center. The 24-story property offers 1,200 guestrooms and about 90,000 square feet of meeting space. ... The 359-room Merchant Court Hotel in Sydney, Australia, has been rebranded as the Swissôtel Sydney. ... A 142-room Le Meridien hotel has opened in Turin, Italy. The property was formerly a Fiat car factory.

MILES & POINTS: AirTran Will Match Your Elite Credentials
In an attempt to sway the loyalty of very frequent flyers on the Big Six carriers, fast-growing AirTran Airways is granting immediate elite-level status in its A-Plus program. If you're an elite flyer with another carrier, all you have to do is fax your current statement to AirTran and it will respond with AirTran A-Plus elite credentials. Elite status on AirTran offers free upgrades from the highest coach fares, $35-$50 standby upgrades from any fare, dedicated check-in lines, priority boarding privileges and other perks. You have until December 31 to take advantage of the promotion. Complete details are available at the Elite Matching page of the AirTran Web site.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines, one of the last carriers to serve meals on most of its domestic flights, is sharply reducing its in-flight offerings. The cuts are being phased in immediately. ... American Airlines now offers interlined E-tickets with Qantas and Copa. ... United Airlines and Mexicana end their code-sharing deal on March 31. The United-led Star Alliance will boot Mexicana out of the group on the same date. ... The trustee of bankrupt Hawaiian Airlines has filed a lawsuit against the carrier's former chairman, his investment groups and the airline's parent company. The suit by trustee Joshua Gotbaum against former chairman John Adams claims that Adams, his management team and Adams-controlled entities "improperly diverted funds" from Hawaiian.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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