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 The Tactical Traveler

JOE BRANCATELLI'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR FEBRUARY 10 TO FEBRUARY 24, 2005
joe COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Be Prepared for Hit-and-Run Fare Sales
Word to the wise: Make sure you visit the Web sites of all the leading airlines this weekend and sign up for their E-mails. Why? Desperate to get a leg up on other carriers--and not averse to picking up some quick cash during the lean first quarter--airlines are mounting a dizzying series of short, sharp fare sales. The latest came Tuesday from Frontier Airlines, which put its entire Denver-based network on sale for just 48 hours. Frontier's sale follows one- or two-day sales in recent weeks from US Airways, Independence Air, Spirit and AirTran Airways. The quick-sale tactic isn't new: TWA used to run them regularly in the early 1990s whenever then-chairman Carl Icahn wanted to raise funds. In those days, of course, Icahn needed to buy big newspaper ads to promote the sales. Now airlines needn't even go public. They just send an E-mail notice to potential travelers. If you don't get the E-mail, however, you're not likely to find out about the promotion in time to buy tickets at the sale price.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Independence Goes Transcon and Launches a Fare War
Financially stressed Independence Air has been ferociously slashing regional-jet flights from its Washington/Dulles hub in recent weeks and now it's taking delivery of a fleet of Airbus A319s. But the airline has made a curious deployment choice for the new planes: on crowded transcontinental routes already flown by United, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines. Effective April 14, it will launch a daily Dulles-San Diego flight. On May 1, it will add two daily flights to San Francisco and one flight each to Los Angeles, Seattle and San Jose. Independence's introductory fares show exactly how competitive the transcon markets are. Prices start as low as $84 one-way on the nonstop routes and $114 on connecting flights to the West Coast via Dulles. Independence's move brought an immediate response from United Airlines. It matched the Independence Air fares on all its competitive transcon routes from Dulles. (There are more details on the fare war on the Steals & Deals page.)

ANNALS OF BANKRUPTCY: Hot Meals Go, New Flights Arrive at US Airways
US Airways continues its long, strange second trip in bankruptcy. Here's the latest update. The carrier launched a raft of new routes and flights from both its Washington/National hub and its new "focus city" of Fort Lauderdale over the last two weekends. Hardly anyone noticed, however, because no one at US Airways bothered to announce the schedules. The airline has eliminated hot meals for first-class passengers on its transcontinental flights. Instead, up-front flyers now receive the same box-lunch meal that the airline tries to sell to coach passengers. Next week should be interesting: The airline faces a self-imposed deadline for presenting a reorganization plan to the bankruptcy court. And apparently management will be working with new profit-and-loss estimates. It told the court two months ago that it expected to lose $200 million this year, $25 million next year and be profitable in 2007. But last week it told unions that it now estimates 2005 losses at $288 million and predicts a $50 million profit in 2006.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Changing of the Business-Travel Guard in Hawaii
Hawaiian Airlines announced this week that it was simplifying its inter-island fares, another in a recent series of savvy moves that has helped the carrier win back frequent inter-island flyers from arch-rival Aloha Airlines. Hawaiian's new online fares are set at $69, $89 and $109 one-way in coach. Aloha quickly matched the fare move, but it has been slow to match Hawaiian's other business-travel-friendly moves. Beginning March 1, for example, Hawaiian will be the first inter-island carrier to offer assigned seats in coach. Aloha says it is sticking with general boarding. And Hawaiian has kept its first-class cabin on inter-island jets even though Aloha dropped its first-class seats last year. Of course, this changing of the business-travel guard is oddly reminiscent of 20 years ago, when it was Aloha that overtook Hawaiian as the carrier of choice among Hawaiian's inter-island business travelers. Back then, Aloha was making all the right moves: It was the first inter-island carrier to move to an all-jet fleet, the first to guarantee to operate its published inter-island schedule and the first to add a first-class cabin on the flights between Honolulu and the neighbor islands.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Time to Book Away From Alitalia and Air Jamaica
Alitalia is once again in turmoil. The Italian carrier, which has never had much of a reputation for on-time operation, is squabbling with employees. The troubled airline cancelled more than 140 flights today, most of them on international routes, because of a four-hour strike. And the outlook is not good. Cabin workers are angry at the airline's new austerity plans and say the strike is "the beginning of a conflict which will be long and tough." Air Jamaica, meanwhile, is in chaos. It has abruptly cancelled dozens of flights in the last week, including much of its service from the United States. Police were called in to quell a near-riot at New York/Kennedy last weekend when passengers were kept waiting for more than 10 hours. At first, the Air Jamaica officials claimed the unannounced cancellations were due to low passenger traffic. Now it says the cancellations are due to increased safety inspections and preventative maintenance.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Air Canada has opened a Maple Leaf Lounge in the Infield Terminal at Toronto/Pearson Airport. The 100-seat facility has a business center and high-speed wireless Internet access. Emirates has opened a lounge at Auckland International Airport. The US$1.3 million club has a business center, wireless Internet, a fully equipped dining room and separate male and female shower facilities. Smarte Carte, which rents luggage carts at many U.S. and international airports, filed a pre-packaged bankruptcy petition in a Delaware court this week. American Airlines must love bad publicity. Just weeks after it endured a spate of negative stories for pulling pillows from its fleet of MD-80s, the carrier announced it would be eliminating pillows from its Boeing B737s and B757s and Airbus A300s. American estimates the combined savings from the two rounds of pillow purges at about $1 million. The bad publicity it has generated from the pillow stories is, as those MasterCard ads would say, priceless.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.