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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR APRIL 8 TO APRIL 22, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: United Express service at Dulles may be chaotic this spring and summer; Frontier will expand in Los Angeles; Sheraton and Hilton are adding hotel check-in kiosks; Toronto's new terminal opens to raves; get ready for another huge increase in flights to Mexico; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Ready for Chaos at Dulles This Summer?
The long, nasty soap opera between United Airlines and Atlantic Coast (ACA), its United Express carrier at Washington's Dulles Airport, ended this week when United severed its contract with Atlantic Coast. But breaking up will be very hard to do, according to United insiders I spoke to this week. Since ACA controls the existing United Express gates and planes at Dulles, United is scrambling to line up replacements. A new United Express terminal at Dulles, due to open in June, is about a month behind schedule. And United, which hasn't shown a genius for organization in recent years, will now have to manage at least six new airlines flying as United Express at Dulles. ACA's phaseout is currently planned for a 60-day transition beginning on June 3. "This is politics and finance, not ops," a United executive told me. "We're not prepared for this and we don't have the management talent to keep it in order." (The squabble is rooted in United's bankruptcy and its attempt to get a $1.6 billion federally guaranteed loan.) Who's the big loser in all this? United's Dulles passengers, of course. They'll have to bear the brunt of all the inevitable chaos that United creates.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Out of Chaos Comes Independence Air
The aforementioned United-Atlantic Coast breakup has freed ACA to begin transforming itself into a low-cost independent airline called, appropriately enough, Independence Air. Those plans got still another boost this week when Delta Air Lines cancelled its commuter-carrier contract with ACA. ACA says Independence will launch on June 16 and fly a fleet of reconfigured regional jets and new Airbus A319s. It plans 300 daily flights from its Dulles hub, which will be located at the old United Express gates. The airline says complete details and fares will be announced next month. ... WestJet will more than double its flying from Toronto beginning April 18. Among the new routes: Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax. ... Frontier, which has been kicking United's metaphoric butt at Denver, is expanding into non-hub flying, too. Effective April 11, Frontier will add flights from Los Angeles to Kansas City, St. Louis and Minneapolis.

CYBERTRAVELER: What They're Saying About Terminal One
The New Terminal One--honest, that's the name--opened at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Tuesday with surprisingly few glitches. Well, surprisingly few when you ignore the fact that the major airline using it (Air Canada) is broke, its new majority investor bailed out last week and the carrier's top restructuring officer quit on Wednesday. But the terminal itself has generally won raves. Toronto Globe and Mail columnist John Barber says the project's success is a public-works miracle. "The Greater Toronto Airports Authority raised and spent C$4 billion in less than half the time it took the Toronto Port Authority to win--and then lose--approval to build a C$20-million bridge," he says. But the facility's high cost has been controversial. The "price tag has enraged the airlines around the world that will have to help pay for it," explains Reuters. The nuts-and-bolts of the terminal was covered by the National Post. Meanwhile, The New York Times focused on the copious amounts of site-specific art and sculpture that adorn the terminal.

IN THE LOBBY: This Is the Dawning of the Age of the Kiosk
At least three hotel chains--Starwood, Hilton and Marriott--have been testing lobby kiosks for speedy check-in and checkout. Not surprisingly, the machines have found a following among business travelers who use airline kiosks at the airport. One Starwood brand, Sheraton, says its kiosk test at the Sheraton Boston has gone so well that the chain will roll out the machines nationwide. Kiosks were deployed this week at the Sheraton flagship, the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, and will be installed in two dozen more properties soon. Hilton says its kiosk test--the machines are in place at the 2,000-room Hilton New York and the 1,500-room Hilton Chicago--is also going well. Several dozen hotels will be similarly equipped in coming months. And machines apparently attract machines: American Airlines has placed self-service flight check-in kiosks in the lobby of the Hilton hotel at O'Hare airport.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: A New Round of South-of-the-Border Flights
U.S. and Mexican carriers have sharply increased the number of transborder flights in recent months and there's no end in sight for the expansion. On May 2, for example, Continental Airlines adds regional-jet flights to Mexico City from San Antonio and McAllen, Texas. It also adds regional-jet flights from its hub in Houston to Puebla (May 2), Oaxaca (June 10) and Toluca (June 10). ... On June 4, America West begins flying regional jets between Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta. Service between LAX and Mazatlan starts June 11. ... On June 5, United Airlines adds Saturday-only flights between Denver and Cancun using Airbus A320s. ... On July 1, Delta Air Lines will add four weekly Boeing 737 flights between its Cincinnati hub and Cancun. ... And Frontier Airlines will launch Saturday-only Airbus service on July 3 to Cancun from three cities: Kansas City, Salt Lake City and St. Louis.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Hilton Hotels picked up eight hotels in India this week when the Oberoi chain added the Hilton name to its portfolio of Trident Hotels. The Oberoi Towers in Mumbai also became a Hilton. ... The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the government on behalf of travelers enmeshed in the TSA's faulty CAPPS I "watch list." Travelers on this no-fly list--or travelers who just happen to have similar names--are hassled and often denied boarding each time they visit the airport. Among the ACLU's clients: an active officer in the U.S. military. ... A former Irish tax man turned real-estate mogul has purchased the prestigious Savoy Group in London for 750 million. The group includes the Connaught, the Berkeley, Claridge's and the Savoy itself. It is the second time in five years that the properties have been sold. ... America West and Hawaiian Airlines now offer code-shared, interlined E-tickets.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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