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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MAY 20 TO MAY 27, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Continental tries to raise fares up to $20 each way; US Airways is dumping its Pittsburgh hub; San Francisco International cancels terminal renovations; Independence Air launches from Dulles on June 16; Hilton HHonors now offers online award redemption; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Will Continental's Fare Increase Stick?
The skyrocketing price of oil has shocked the major airlines and even shamed them out of their usual dead-of-night, weekend fare games. Rather than try to slip in a fare increase over a weekend or even waiting until Memorial Day, when no one would be watching, Continental announced on Tuesday evening that it was increasing fares worldwide. Continental said it would add $10 each way to all flights up to 1,000 miles and $20 each way to all flights over 1,000 miles. United and Delta promptly matched the Continental increases. But American Airlines matched on only about half of its flights and Northwest was even more selective, raising fares on only about 25 percent of its service. So the fate of the fare increase remains unsettled since Continental usually rescinds price hikes that are not matched across the board. In Canada, Air Canada matched the Continental increase for transborder flights, but imposed smaller hikes (C$7 on flights up to 799 miles and C$10 on flights over 800 miles) on Canadian domestic service.

AIRPORT REPORT: Pittsburgh's Gone, Cleveland Stays, SFO Stalls
US Airways has made it official: Pittsburgh is out as a hub. After months of insulting the airport's management, the carrier's officials told Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell that US Airways would be sharply reducing service from its current level of 372 daily flights. The airline's May schedule is already 14 percent smaller than its Pittsburgh schedule in May 2003, Aviation Daily reported earlier this month. ... In Cleveland, Continental chief-executive-to-be Larry Kellner has almost apologized to the city and says the airline will maintain its hub there. Last year, chief executive Gordon Bethune threatened to shut down the Hopkins hub and accused Cleveland businesses of snubbing Continental for discount carriers flying from nearby Akron-Canton. "If you don't want it, then fine. We won't give it to you," he raged. But this week, Kellner was in Cleveland and promised to keep the hub going. "If you liked the last 10 years in Cleveland, you'll like the next 10," he told a Cleveland audience. ... Faced with stiff competition from Oakland across the Bay, San Francisco International is trying to lower its operating cost for airlines and has decided to cancel plans to remodel Terminals I and II and build a new airport hotel.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Making RJ Lemonade From Dulles Lemons
The apparently never-ending saga between United Airlines and Atlantic Coast, its commuter carrier at Washington/Dulles, took its next peculiar turn this week. Now almost freed from each other, Atlantic Coast announced its after-United plan: conversion into a low-fare carrier called Independence Air. Working from its Dulles hub--Atlantic Coast controls all the gates and planes used for United Express--Independence Air will fly a huge fleet of 50-seat regional-jet planes to 35 destinations. Prices for the 300 daily flights will range from $39 to $178 one-way. All fares are nonrefundable, but changeable for a $25 fee. Service starts June 16 and cities will be phased in through September 1. But Independence Air isn't exactly a low-fare airline made in business-plan heaven. RJs are expensive planes to fly. Awash in gates and planes, Independence is offering much more capacity than the spoke cities have ever supported. Moreover, Atlantic Coast is not selling tickets through travel agents or third-party Web sites but only via its own reservation lines and Web site. Oh, and United isn't going away: It's lining up other carriers to fly as United Express, it promptly matched Independence's fares and it is also offering a huge bonus-mile promotion for travelers who fly from Dulles, Washington/National or Baltimore/Washington.

CYBERTRAVELER: Tell It to the Man Online
Dr. Keith Mason is a respected professor of aviation at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom and he's currently researching the importance of airline-ticket flexibility to business travelers. So he's going direct to you for answers. If you've got just a few minutes, please surf to his survey and fill out the form. He'll respond by sending you a copy of the executive summary of the final report, which he'll be presenting at an airline conference in Istanbul in July. And don't be put off by the references to British pounds. Just remember that they're worth $1.78 each!

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Hilton Hhonors now allows frequent guests to search for hotels and reserve free award nights at the Hilton Hhonors Web site. ... Northwest Airlines says it will launch daily flights between Seattle and Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii on July 15. The flight between Kona and Seattle is nonstop. The Seattle-Kona flights include a stop in Maui. ... The Transportation Security Administration says it has confiscated more than 300 guns and 1.5 million knives in the last six months. ... Israir, an eight-year-old Israeli carrier, is launching service to New York. The carrier will fly three times a week between Tel Aviv and Kennedy Airport's Terminal 4. Israir will use Boeing 767-300s configured with 185 coach seats and 42 business-class seats.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

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