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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR AUGUST 12 TO AUGUST 26, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Useless "wait-time" data from the Transportation Security Administration; more airports for Hertz's Prestige Collection of cars; Malaysia Airlines will fly between Newark and Stockholm; more hotel openings and reflaggings around the world; Northwest challenges ATA in Indianapolis; Ray Charles in the skies; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: All the Data That's Fit to Confuse
Never let it be said that the Transportation Security Administration isn't the last with the least when it comes to keeping business travelers informed. With some fanfare, the TSA announced this week that it now has a Web site (http://waittime.tsa.dhs.gov/index.html) that purports to offer "wait times" to clear security checkpoints. The problem is that the information is not real-time data. It's merely historical averages based on a rolling 28-day snapshot of wait times at each checkpoint. "Your personal experience may differ due to weather, airport flight schedules, staffing conditions, holidays or special events," warns the TSA. In other words, the information is basically useless because it doesn't offer any insight into current conditions at the airport that you're using for a flight today.

AIRPORT REPORT: More Prestigious Hertz Cars at More Airports
Hertz has extended its unique Prestige Collection service to 18 more airports. The Prestige Collection is a group of "exotic" cars--Jaguars, Lincolns, Volvos, Land Rovers and Cadillac Escalades--that can be reserved by brand and specific model. The new airport locations include California destinations like San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento, larger Sun Belt airports and Honolulu. The Prestige Collection, which even has its own toll-free number (800-654-2250), is now available at 50 airports. ... Alaska Airlines has moved to Terminal B at Washington/National airport. ... The airport in Rockford, Illinois, which recently renamed itself Northwest Chicagoland Regional, says it will build customs and immigration facilities. The airport's management hopes to catch some spillover of international flights if cutbacks are ordered at overburdened Chicago/O'Hare. ... Parts of a new terminal have opened at Killeen-Fort Hood Airport in Texas. ... Travelers have left more than $250,000 in coins behind at security checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Why Malaysia Airlines Is Moving to Stockholm
You don't hear much about Malaysia Airlines and that's too bad because it offers terrific in-flight service at very competitive prices. It's also extremely generous with upgrades. And for a long time it was the only airline flying nonstop from the United States to Dubai. But the airline is dropping its Newark-Dubai flights and replacing them on November 4 with three weekly flights between Newark and Stockholm. Both the Dubai flights and the new Stockholm service continue on to Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur hub, so why the switch? I checked in with Vladimir Velasco, the airline's U.S.-based marketing director, and he had a ready answer. "Now that Emirates flies daily to Dubai from New York/Kennedy, it's hard to compete with only three flights a week. But Stockholm is virgin territory. We'll be the only airline offering a first-class cabin between the United States and Scandinavia." (SAS Scandinavian and Continental, the incumbent carriers, only offer coach and business-class service.) Another advantage: Malaysia's Stockholm flights will depart late from Newark (10:45 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and about an hour earlier on Saturday). That gives business travelers the chance to get in an entire day of work at the office before heading off to Stockholm or flying on to Kuala Lumpur.

IN THE LOBBY (Domestic): The New, the Old and the Reflagged
After a year of renovation work, the old Doral hotel on Park Avenue has reopened as 70 Park Avenue. Operated by Kimpton, the San Francisco-based hotel company, the property now has 205 guestrooms. ... Kimpton's Bay Area boutique competitor, Joie de Vivre, has renovated and reopened a property closer to home: the 86-room Hotel Montgomery in downtown San Jose. ... Speaking of Northern California, Hyatt Hotels has slapped is name on the 156-room Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa. The property is now called (wait for it...) the Hyatt Vineyard Creek. ... A 293-room Renaissance Hotel has opened in Tampa. The newly built, 8-story property is adjacent to the International Plaza mall. ... And what would an edition of Tactical Traveler be without an Adam's Mark update. The amazing, shrinking hotel chain has lost two more: The 374-room property across from Kansas City's Truman Sports Complex, home of the baseball Royals and the NFL Chiefs, is now flying the Clarion flag. And the former Adam's Mark in Mobile has been purchased by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (that's the group that controls US Airways). The 377-room property is now called the Riverview Plaza.

IN THE LOBBY (International): Hotel Changes Around the World
Radisson SAS has opened a 153-room hotel in the Turkish capital of Ankara. ... Sofitel has planted its flag atop the 191-room Hotel de l'Amitie in Bamako, the capital of Mali. The 40-year-old property, on the grounds of a park on the banks of the River Niger, was recently renovated. ... Shangri-La, the Hong Kong-based hotel company, has opened the 250-room Traders Hotel in Dubai. It has also converted the former Radisson Plaza in Cairns, Australia. The 256-room property is undergoing a US$18 million renovation and has been renamed the Shangri-La Hotel Marina. ... Marriott has opened a 465-room resort on the southern tip of Hainan Island, China. The property is situated on a beach fronting the South China Sea. ... Hilton International has put its name on the 204-room Princess Hotel in the Zona Rosa district of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The hotel is now called (wait for it...) the Hilton Princess San Salvador. ... The Hotel Metropole has reopened in Monte Carlo. The 146-room hotel was closed for renovation for almost a year. Nightly rates start at about $450, a bargain by Monaco standards.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Another attempt at a fare increase, this one fronted by American Airlines, failed last week. ... Speaking of fares, the Italian government has ordered more than 40 airlines to raise their fares into Italy. The goal is to protect Alitalia, the flagging Italian flag carrier. Several airlines, and most especially British Airways, say they will resist the order. ... Keep your eyes on Indianapolis, the home of ailing ATA Airlines. Northwest Airlines says it is launching 19 new nonstop flights to 10 cities in October. Since none of those new cities are Northwest hubs--Northwest already flies nonstop between Indianapolis and its Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis hubs--it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Northwest is trying to hammer the final nails into ATA's metaphorical coffin. ... American Airlines has introduced new short-haul, restricted AAdvantage awards at 15,000 (coach) and 30,000 (first or business class) miles. The awards are good for short trips (no longer than 750 miles each way) and can be claimed for travel between September 1 and February 28. American has also knocked 5,000 miles off restricted coach awards to/from Hawaii between September 7 and November 18. ... America West and Virgin Atlantic are now code-sharing on many flights. ... AirTran is dropping service to Tallahassee, Florida, and Greensboro, North Carolina, on September 6.

THE PARTING SHOT: Flying With Brother Ray One Last Time
It's absurd to call the recent death of Ray Charles "untimely" because there simply was no good time to lose the most enduring and creative force in modern music. But Ray left behind a completed album, Genius Loves Company, a series of duets with a dozen other artists. The CD will be released on the Concord label on August 31, but it's been playing on the in-flight audio system of American Airlines since the beginning of the month. Ray sings with Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Mathis, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Van Morrison, Elton John, B.B. King, James Taylor and Gladys Knight. It's the best reason I've heard to hop a Big Six flight in a long, long time.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

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