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 The Tactical Traveler

joe JOE BRANCATELLI'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL
BRIEFING FOR JANUARY 12, 2006 - JANUARY 26, 2006

The High Cost of "Cost Savings" at Alaska Airlines
After a prolonged contract dispute last year, Alaska Airlines abruptly fired almost 500 baggage handlers and ramp workers at its Seattle-Tacoma hub. The employees wouldn't grant Alaska's demands for huge concessions, so Alaska outsourced the jobs to a third-party firm and claimed it would save $13.7 million a year. Not only isn't Alaska saving money by using the company, Menzies Aviation, it is also risking passenger safety and its fleet. On December 26, a Menzies worker at Sea-Tac damaged an MD-80 with a baggage loader. He didn't report the incident, however, and the plane departed for Burbank. It lost cabin pressure at 26,000 feet when the fuselage ruptured and the flight was forced to return to Sea-Tac. Another Menzies worker at Sea-Tac damaged a Boeing 737 last week. He pushed the aircraft forward at the wrong time during passenger boarding and it hit a jetway and other equipment. And just to add financial insult to the fleet injuries, the Federal Aviation Administration this week said it would fine Alaska $500,000 because it operated 478 flights with improper or non-existent emergency-exit lighting. The FAA said that the snafu was caused by a third-party firm that Alaska hired when the airline outsourced most of its aircraft maintenance in 2004.

Two More Airports Drop Off the Route Map
Scratch two more airports off the nation's commercial airline route map. Hickory, North Carolina, loses its only commercial service on January 22 when Delta Air Lines drops flights to Atlanta. And Palmdale, California, loses its scheduled flights in March when Scenic Airlines drops its service there. Scenic launched flights to North Las Vegas late in 2004. … Speaking of disappearing, both major Mexican airlines are canceling their flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. Mexicana this week dropped service to three Mexican destinations and Aeromexico will stop flying to Mexico City on February 5. Mexicana resumed DFW service last July after a 13-year hiatus. … Cincinnati has opened a cell-phone lot adjacent to Terminal 1 just past the entrance to the parking garage. … The Hyatt Regency at Houston International has been reflagged as a Doubletree hotel. The 314-room property will begin renovations in April.

A Big Week in Bankruptcy Courts for United and Northwest
Next week should be very interesting in the bankruptcy courts. United Airlines will be in Chicago attempting to get approval for its reorganization plan. After more than three years in Chapter 11, however, United still faces some obstacles. Most notable: a controversial executive-bonus plan that would have given the carrier's top officials about 15 percent of the reorganized company. That number has been negotiated down to 8 percent, but some creditors are still appalled. So are United's unions, who've given up billions in salaries, perks and pensions since the airline's Chapter 11 filing. And Northwest Airlines will be in its bankruptcy court in New York next week trying to convince a judge to allow the carrier to void its labor contracts. The unions for the pilots, flight attendants and ground workers say they will strike if Northwest voids their contracts.

So Much for What the Experts Know…
The U.S. dollar gained 15 percent against the euro last year and currency experts were predicting that the greenback would continue its winning streak during the first few months of 2006. No so. During the first few days of trading in 2006, the dollar plummeted by 2.5 percent and was selling at three-month lows. It's revived a bit this week, however, and is selling at about $1.21. … American Express has settled a class-action lawsuit over hidden foreign-currency transaction fees. The $75 million settlement affects more than 800,000 cardholders who were part of the suit. Individual cardholders should receive a credit of at least $15. … Air Canada has reorganized its fare structure on flights to the United Kingdom. It now offers four fares, three for coach and one for first class. It didn't lower prices, however.

Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City
The somnambulant Kansas City hotel market is undergoing something of a renaissance. Most notable: The President Hotel at 1329 Baltimore Avenue. The 14-story downtown property has been closed for 25 years, but it reopened yesterday (January 11) after a $45 million renovation. Reborn as the Hilton President Kansas City, the hotel now has 213 rooms. It took more than four years to renovate and reconfigure the guest accommodations and restore the lavish public rooms, including the Drum Room, once Kansas City's most elegant nightclub. Another change: Fairmont is out at the 12-story hotel at 401 Ward Parkway overlooking Brush Creek. The 366-room property is scheduled to become the InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza later this month. The property opened in 1972 as the Alameda Plaza and was once operated as a Ritz-Carlton. Also changing hands this month: the much admired Raphael Hotel just a few doors away at 325 Ward Parkway. The 123-room boutique property, which opened as an apartment building in 1927, will not change names or staff, however.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Yahoo! is testing branded Internet lounges in Sheraton hotels. The first ones, called YahooLink@Sheraton, have opened in the lobbies of Sheraton properties in Boston and San Diego. They offer desktop workstations and space for guests to plug in their laptops. High-speed Internet access, including wireless, is free. … Enterprise Rent-A-Car is rolling out a customized version of Garmin's StreetPilot in-car navigation systems at 45 U.S. airports. The devices will cost $7.95 a day. … An Australian investment bank has bought Smarte Carte, the company that rents luggage carts at about 175 airports worldwide. Smart Carte has been in Chapter 11 since last year. … The European Union's highest court has upheld a law that compensates overbooked or delayed passengers from €250 to €600.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.