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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JANUARY 29 TO FEBRUARY 12, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: the beginning of the end of Song; Aloha's new Web site offers 10 percent off most fares; JetBlue redefines aviation's fast track; new looks for Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn; more service to Mexico; another big glitch at security; high-speed, on-the-road Internet access gains momentum; the high cost of bankruptcy lawyers at United; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Beginning of the End for Song
Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announced a package of new routes and terminal upgrades for its hub at New York's Kennedy Airport and even the most obtuse observer couldn't help but notice how there was almost no mention of Song, Delta's low-fare entry that was created to fight JFK-based JetBlue Airways. Most noticeable was Delta's decision to launch new service on three existing JetBlue routes: Kennedy to San Juan, Denver and San Diego. But Song will not be flying its one-class, 199-seat Boeing 757s on those routes. In fact, with the exception of one additional JFK-Florida route, Song's expansion has been grounded. Song president John Selvaggio in November promised an imminent announcement of a big Song initiative and Delta had been finalizing plans for a huge Song soiree in New York. The party was even meant to include an appearance by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Gerald Grinstein, who took control of Delta on January 1, killed Song's plans. "You looking at the beginning of the end of Song," one Delta executive told me. "The numbers are miserable and Gerry's made it clear that he won't spend another dime until and unless we can prove there's a chance for a profit."

CYBERTRAVELER: Look at the New Aloha, Get 10 Percent Off
Aloha Airlines, the top-notch carrier based in Honolulu, has launched its new Web site and is offering a juicy incentive for you to take a look: a 10 percent Web discount on virtually any fare. Aloha flies the major Hawaiian interisland routes and flies from Hawaii to seven mainland U.S. destinations, Vancouver and five South Pacific islands.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Redefining the Airline Fast Track
Have any doubt that JetBlue Airways is the hottest thing to hit the airline industry since the Wright Brothers? The four-year-old airline reported this week that its 2003 sales were $998 million, just $2 million short of the $1 billion threshold required for it to be classified as a "major carrier" by the Department of Transportation. And then there is this note: According to a chart published by Aviation Daily in September of 2001, JetBlue wasn't among the nation's top 30 carriers in terms of market share. It didn't even have Skyway's .02% share of the nation's air-travel business. Flash forward to December, 2003, when another Aviation Daily chart reckoned JetBlue to be the nation's 10th largest carrier with a 1.93 percent share of the U.S. market.

IN THE LOBBY: New Looks for Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn
There are big changes in the works for two venerable hotel brands, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn. Hampton on Wednesday unveiled an $80 million package of upgrades that the company says will be completed at its 1,250 properties within the next year. The program includes new public-room decor, upgraded guestroom furnishings and better bathrooms. The 20-year-old chain is also adding more hot offerings to its complimentary breakfast and introducing On the Go Breakfast Bags. The bags will include a cereal bar, a muffin and bottled water. The company also showcased a prototype of a new guestroom that will begin appearing at newly built Hampton Inns. The rooms are larger, better organized and have wider hallways. Bathrooms in the new King rooms will have walk-in showers rather than tubs. ... Meanwhile, at 50-year-old Holiday Inn, the chain has already opened a new hotel prototype in suburban Atlanta. The goal? Update the chain's sometimes dowdy image by reviving some iconic Holiday Inn symbols of the past, including the green-striped bath towel and an updated version of the classic Holiday Inn sign. Guestrooms have a more residential feel and armoires that allow the television to be viewed from anywhere in the room. There is also a new comfort-food dining concept called Kemm's Cafe, named after Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson. "We view it as a return to a traditional set of values that made staying at a Holiday Inn great," explains Mark Snyder, Holiday Inn's senior vice president of brand management.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: More Mexico--and a Lot Less Pan Am
The last bits of Pan Am's huge Miami-based South American network will disappear on May 1 when United Airlines drops flights to Buenos Aires and San Paulo. United bought Pan Am's South American routes as Pan Am was collapsing into bankruptcy in 1991. ... American Airlines says it will move its London/Gatwick service to the airport's North Terminal by the end of April. The move will connect American passengers on Dallas/Fort Worth and Raleigh-Durham flights to the Gatwick service of American's code-share partner, British Airways. ... A 379-room Marriott has opened on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. ... A 56-room Ramada International has opened at Prague Airport. ... Mexicana, which is leaving the Star Alliance in March, has forged a code-share deal with American Airlines. ... AeroMexico will launch daily service between Boston and Mexico City on February 13. The flight offers same-plane service to Cancun. ... Speaking of Cancun, United Airlines will begin Saturday-only flights from its Washington/Dulles hub on February 14.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
AirTran Airways continues its rapid expansion on February 11 with twice-daily nonstop flights between Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth. On the same day, it will add daily flights between Tampa and Akron-Canton Airport. ... Northwest Airlines says it will resume its daily nonstop service between Los Angeles and Honolulu on July 1. The airline dropped the flights in December. ... America West says it will begin a permanent in-flight food-sales program on about a dozen long-haul flights this week. Prices will range from $2 for snacks and candy bars to $7 for a sandwich and sides. ... Delta Air Lines and DinersClub have teamed up for another mileage-transfer bonus promotion. Travelers who transfer between 40,000 and 78,000 ClubRewards points to Delta's SkyMiles program will receive a 10 percent bonus. Large transfers will generate a 25 percent mileage bonus.

SECURITY WATCH: As I Was Saying About Tin Stars in the Sky...
So here's the latest news from the security front: A woman booked on a Spirit Airlines flight last week from New York/LaGuardia to Denver passed through security screening with a knife and a stun gun in her purse. No one knew about the contraband until the woman turned herself in to a flight attendant during the flight. Since she obviously meant no harm, she was released after questioning by police in Denver. The Transportation Security Administration, which controls the security checkpoints, refused to comment on the incident. You'll forgive me for mentioning it, but this is exactly the kind of behavior we were discussing two weeks back in my Tin Stars in the Sky column. Not only can't we catch all this stuff by pre-screening, there's also no reason to assume that people carrying supposedly contraband items have malicious intent. It really is time to start a dialogue on a better way to do security.

TECH TALK: More Places to Get Wired (or Unwired)
High-speed Internet access is now clearly established as a must-have amenity for business travelers and various segments of the travel industry are racing to catch up with the trend. ... InterContinental Hotels says high-speed access will be available at 2,500 properties within the next year. According to the company, all InterContinental brand hotels will offer wired and/or wireless access in all guestrooms by the end of the first quarter of 2005. Crowne Plaza brand hotels in North America will be wired, or offer wireless access, by the end of the year. Pricing at both chains will be property-specific. By the end of the year, more than 1,000 North American Holiday Inn and 1,200 Holiday Inn Express hotels will offer free access in all guestrooms. ... Best Western says it will roll out free high-speed access in 2,300 properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The installations will begin immediately and should be completed by September. The plan calls for wireless and hard-wired high-speed access in public areas and 15 percent of all guestrooms. ... Continental Airlines says it will offer free wireless access in all 28 Presidents Clubs by the end of the year.

THE PARTING SHOT: The High Cost of an Airline Bankruptcy
United Airlines, which is trying to beat higher fees for health benefits from its retirees, is on track to pay its bankruptcy lawyers almost $60 million for legal fees. The firm of Kirkland & Ellis told the Chicago bankruptcy court that its bill for the first year of bankruptcy work--United declared for Chapter 11 protection on December 9, 2002--includes $55.9 million in attorney compensation and $3.8 million in expenses. Among the costs: $43,873 for lead attorney James Sprayregen to cover about 60 hours he worked the case in December. (That's about $730 an hour.) Kirkland partner David Seligman billed $118,128 to cover 250 hours of work.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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