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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR AUGUST 26 TO SEPTEMBER 9, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: US Airways pins its hopes on Fort Lauderdale, but competitors will be there first; there'll be lots more Hawaii flights this fall; the Watergate Hotel is closing; United admits in court that it lied; American will test in-flight food sales; the restaurant where no one knows your name at Logan; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: US Airways Flies to Florida and Competitors Follow
Desperately seeking a survival strategy, US Airways announced Monday that it would ratchet up service at Fort Lauderdale. But new flights won't start until February and US Airways' announcement immediately drew faster competitive responses from Delta, AirTran and Spirit. According to US Airways, planes being pulled from its shriveling hub in Pittsburgh will be moved to Fort Lauderdale to offer daily flights to Guatemala City, Guatemala; Kingston, Jamaica; Panama City, Panama; San Salvador, El Salvador; Nassau, Bahamas; Turks and Caicos; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; San Jose, Costa Rica; San Juan; and Cancun. It will also offer new flights from Fort Lauderdale to Boston, Newark, Key West, Orlando and Tampa as well as its previously announced restoration of New York/LaGuardia service. But US Airways' plans brought a battery of new flights from Delta, which will launch commuter service to Fort Lauderdale on December 1 from eight cities: Birmingham, AL; Charleston, SC; Dayton; Greensboro and Raleigh/Durham, NC; Norfolk and Richmond, VA; and Pensacola. Spirit Airlines then said it would launch Fort Lauderdale-Santo Domingo flights on November 18. And AirTran said that it will operate Saturday-only service to Fort Lauderdale from Pittsburgh and Akron-Canton beginning November 20. That's on top of AirTran's previously announced daily service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Fort Lauderdale that begins on December 7. And just to complicate matters even more, JetBlue Airways is due to launch seven daily flights between LaGuardia and Fort Lauderdale next month. What's it all mean? "I think it's 50-50 that US Airways makes it to February and actually launches all these flights," an analyst told me.

AIRPORT REPORT: The Restaurant Where No One Knows Your Name
Host Marriott once had high hopes for its Cheers airport bar chain a decade ago. The concept was based on the Cheers television show and even had robotic barflies that bore an uncanny resemblance to Norm and Cliff, two of the program's most popular characters. But mediocre execution--not to mention a lawsuit by the actors who played Norm and Cliff--put the brakes on the concept. The most recent casualty: The Cheers bar in the pre-security area of Logan Airport in Boston, which was home to the bar in the TV show. It's been replaced by a restaurant called Ozone-BOS, which has a menu created by celebrity chef Todd English. ... Three months after its partial collapse, Terminal 2E at Paris/Charles de Gaulle has reopened. Check with your airline for details of your specific flight. ... The 125-room hotel at the American Airlines terminal at San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico is now a Best Western property. ... Prestwick Airport in Scotland is "a shambles," admits the airport's owners. The facility has had a rapid growth in passengers since the arrival of low-fare Ryanair.

COCONUT WIRELESS: Got Miles? Airlines Will Have More Hawaii Flights
Airline service to Hawaii is on the upswing again, which is good news for business travelers looking for a great holiday destination where they can burn some frequent-flyer miles. ... Delta Air Lines says it will add a second daily flight between its Atlanta hub and Honolulu on December 1. ... On December 15, Northwest Airlines says it will launch a daily nonstop to Honolulu from Portland, Oregon. On the same day, Northwest will resume daily flights between San Francisco and Honolulu, a route the airline dropped in April, 2001. Two-class Boeing 757s will be used on both routes. ... And leave it to United Airlines to make a simple route announcement complicated. Beginning December 16, it will fly from its Chicago/O'Hare hub to Maui and then on to Kona on the Big Island. But the return flight will fly nonstop from Kona to O'Hare. A Boeing 777 with first, Economy Plus and coach classes will be used on what United calls its "unique daily roundtrip route." ... Meanwhile, back at a sane carrier, Honolulu-based Aloha Airlines is adding to its mainland service. Effective September 7, the airline will launch daily nonstop flights between Sacramento and Maui and between Las Vegas and Honolulu. On December 15, it will add daily Reno-Burbank-Maui service. The airline already operates Reno-Orange County-Honolulu flights.

IN THE LOBBY: Say Goodbye to the Watergate Hotel
It lent its name to the most notorious Presidential scandal in history, but the Watergate Hotel has reached the end of the line. The 251-room hotel, which has been managed by several major chains in recent years, has been sold and will close. The new owners will turn the property into private apartments. ... This week's notable reflaggings: The 306-room Clarion Bayview in San Diego has become the Marriott Gaslight Quarter. The 692-room Doral Golf Resort in Miami will also become a Marriott. The 360-room Wyndham Watch Hill in Hauppague, NY, has become the Hyatt Regency Wind Watch Long Island. The former Clarion Hotel Fifth Avenue in Manhattan has become the Hotel 5A. ... Four Seasons has opened a 336-room hotel in the Garden City district of Cairo. The hotel has three swimming pools and a spa overlooking the Nile. ... Blackstone, a private investment firm, has purchased Prime Hospitality and says about three dozen of Prime's Wellesley Inn hotels will be rebranded as Extended Stay, StudioPlus or Crossland hotels.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Liar, Liar, Airline on Fire
United Airlines trooped into bankruptcy court earlier this month and had to admit to a judge that it lied when it told its unions and the American people that it was barred from making required contributions to its pension-fund obligations by the terms of a recent round of private financing. There are absolutely no lender restrictions on pension-fund payments, United's lawyers admitted. The airline's own management decided to skip a $72 million payment this summer and management is solely responsible for the decision not to pay about $500 million due this fall. The judge has forced United to appoint an independent overseer to represent employee interests in the bankruptcy case and the quasi-governmental Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC) says United's refusal to pay into its pension plans is illegal. The airline says it may renounce its pension plans and dump them on the PBGC, but no one knows what United's increasingly squirrelly management is thinking because it has yet to produce a business plan even after almost two years under Chapter 11 protection.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
There's no definite news about the twin crashes of Russian airliners that departed Moscow within minutes of each other earlier this week. Many Russian media outlets are bluntly calling the crashes terrorism, but so far there is no real proof either way. .... American Airlines announced today that it would begin testing in-flight food sales on selected flights. Independently, America West, which was first to test food sales, says about 25 percent of its passengers now purchase a meal or snack in-flight. ... US Airways and Bahamasair now code-share on many flights. Dividend Miles travelers can also accrue miles and claim awards on Bahamasair flights. ... Speaking of mileage programs, United Mileage Plus will charge $15 for award tickets claimed by phone beginning October 15. Air France, which dumped and then resumed its Cincinnati-Paris service immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks, now says it will drop the route permanently on September 6.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

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