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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JANUARY 8 TO JANUARY 15, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: A strike may hit Northwest Airlines Airlink this weekend; a slew of massive changes in the hotel industry; Delta and US Airways offer free upgrades to elite flyers; Iberia drops first-class service; airports will maintain orange-alert status when the national terror level returns to yellow; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Northwest Goes to the Brink at Mesaba
A huge chunk of Northwest Airlines' commuter capacity may go down over the weekend if Mesaba pilots strike. A federally mandated 30-day cooling off period expires late Friday evening Minneapolis time and a pilot's strike will ground about 600 daily flights in 103 cities. Although Mesaba flies from all three Northwest hubs (Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis), the most severely affected routes are in Minnesota and Michigan, where Mesaba is often the only carrier. Neither Northwest nor any of its other commuter partners will add capacity if Mesaba is grounded. Northwest is offering only limited reaccommodation options. As of late Thursday evening, chances of a settlement appear bleak. Mesaba pilots have worked for more than two years on an expired contract. And be warned: Mesaba may begin canceling flights as early as Friday morning in anticipation of the work stoppage.

AIRPORT REPORT: New and Notable Around the Nation
Continental Airlines has opened the final phase of Terminal E at Houston Intercontinental Airport. The facility, parts of which opened in July, now offers 23 gates, a Presidents Club and several dozen shops and restaurants. ... A consolidated car-rental center opened at Baltimore-Washington International. All on-airport rental firms work from the 100-acre site on the west side of the airport. Rental firms cannot use their own passenger shuttles; a fleet of airport shuttles connects the passenger terminal and the rental facilities. ... The McNamara Terminal at Detroit/Metro, also known as the Northwest World Gateway, now offers WiFi Internet access. The charge is $6.95 for a 24-hour period. The service is also available free to subscribers to the Sprint, iPass, STSN and Boingo networks.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Passing the Flag in the Hotel World
The unstable state of the hotel business is underlined by a peculiar confluence of events in recent weeks. Let's start with the endless saga of Le Meridien hotels. The 130-property chain, which has been owned by the French, the British and the Japanese, is now in the hands of Americans. The group was essentially purchased just before New Year's by a partnership of Lehman Brothers and Starwood, the parent of the Sheraton and Westin brands. But Le Meridien is shrinking fast: more than a dozen properties exited the chain in recent months and the Le Meridien Boston became the Langham on New Year's Day. And Starwood does not get control of Le Meridien's once-impressive portfolio of London hotels. Those properties will go elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Adam's Mark chain is being broken up, too. Eight of the two dozen or so remaining properties were sold this week and will change brand affiliations. Separately, the Adam's Mark in Houston will become a Marriott in the spring. There is also upheaval at the luxury end of the hotel market. The Regent brand, once the luxury pacesetter in Asia, is essentially no more as Four Seasons has reflagged the former Bangkok and Chang Mai Regent hotels in Thailand. And the four-year-old Regent New York closed its doors just before Christmas. Finally, the top management of St. Regis, Starwood's luxury brand, has departed after the parent company moved St. Regis headquarters to New York from Dallas.

IN THE LOBBY: Meanwhile, Back at the Front Desk...
As if the corporate hotel upheavals aren't enough to make your head spin, here is what is happening at a front desk near you. The Hastings Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut, closed abruptly on December 30. ... The Swissotel Atlanta has become a Westin. ... The InterContinental Managua in Nicaragua has been rebranded the Crowne Plaza. ... The former 607-room Wyndham Montreal has become a Hyatt hotel. ... Ritz-Carlton has taken over management of the Penha Longa Hotel and Golf Resort near Sintra, Portugal. And Marriott has opened a resort 45 minutes north of Lisbon in the oceanfront town of Obidos. ... Four Seasons has opened a 124-room resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The property offers three restaurants, a spa and a fitness center; each guestroom has a fireplace and a private balcony or terrace. ... Hilton has opened an 800-room hotel next to the convention center in Austin, Texas. It has also opened a Hilton Garden Inn in the old Fletcher Trust Building in downtown Indianapolis.

MILES & POINTS: Program Upgrades Are the Name of the Game
Intercontinental Hotels has taken control of the Candlewood extended-stay chain and that means Candlewood will join the Priority Club Rewards program. Beginning March 29, guests will receive 10 points for every $1 spent. Free nights at Candlewood begin at 11,000 points. ... Upgrades will be easier and cheaper for Delta SkyMiles Medallion members this year. The changes, including capacity-controlled free upgrades, are effective immediately. The program changes have been posted at the Delta site. ... Elite members of the US Airways Dividend Miles program will also receive free upgrades beginning in March. The upgrades apply to full-coach fares.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Only the hardiest of Americans brave the near-anarchy in Algeria. If you're one of them, take note: British Airways now flies three times weekly between London/Gatwick and Algiers. ... Hotels in San Francisco are now required to collect a 14 percent tax on hotel parking. ... Toronto will add a hotel tax, too. The Toronto charge is 3 percent on room rates. The revenue is supposed to go toward tourism marketing. ... American Express Platinum cardholders no longer have access to Amtrak ClubAcela lounges. ... E-ticket interlining continues to gain momentum: American and KLM airlines now offer the service on joint itineraries. ... Limoliner, the luxury-bus service that travels between New York and Boston, now offers Sunday service. ... Iberia is dropping its existing business- and first-class cabins on long-haul flights. A new upgraded business-class product with wider seats that turn into nearly flat beds will debut this summer. ... Mexicana is leaving the Star Alliance and ending its code-share deal with United Airlines.

SECURITY WATCH: America, But Not the Airports, Will Go Yellow Watch for the Department of Homeland Security to lower the nation's terror-alert status to yellow sometime next week. The DHS elevated the alert level to orange just before Christmas and the extra security led to a series of heavily publicized cancellations of holiday flights operated by Air France, British Airways and Aeromexico. But there'll be a twist: Homeland Security is expected to maintain an orange-level status for airports and the transportation system. Sources tell me that this dual-track regimen is being advocated by smaller cities around the nation because city managers say their towns are not at risk and can't afford the added security burden imposed by orange-level status.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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