The Tactical Traveler

The Battle Over Economy Plus at United Airlines
The Economy Plus service at United Airlines, the front-of-coach section that offers several inches worth of extra legroom, is the latest battleground between frequent flyers and full-fare flyers. Without bothering to announce it publicly or even alert its own travelers, United this week restricted confirmed access to the section to elite Mileage Plus members and travelers who pay a $299 annual "Economy Plus Access" fee. That's very good news for United's elite frequent flyers, of course, but very bad news for the less-frequent United customer who books at the last minute and pays the full coach fare. Why? Full-fare customers who buy at United's highest coach prices (usually coded Y, B, M, E and U) no longer have a reasonable shot at the best coach seats. Until this week's change of policy, United travelers paying the highest coach prices were automatically assigned seats in the Economy Plus section. The battle between full-fare and elite flyers isn't new, of course. Airlines are constantly balancing the perks offered frequent flyers with the logical expectations of less-frequent, full-fare customers. Over at Continental, for example, the Elite Access program offers full-fare coach travelers upgrades to first class at the time of booking and many of the boarding and service perks available to the carrier's elite OnePass members.

The Other Guys Keep Connecting the Dots
While many Big Six carriers continue to trim flight schedules, the alternate airlines are busily connecting the dots on their respective route maps. Southwest Airlines will add nonstop service between Albany and Tampa (beginning October 29) and between Chicago/Midway and Reno/Lake Tahoe (beginning December 4). Frontier Airlines will launch daily flights from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on December 9. JetBlue Airways introduces nonstop daily flights between its New York/Kennedy hub and Cancun, Mexico, on November 30. AirTran Airways begins nonstop daily flights between Chicago/Midway and Miami on February 7. It also launches daily flights between Akron/Canton and Fort Lauderdale on January 4.

Wrights, Wrongs and Less Low-Fare Service at DFW
The seemingly endless battle over the Wright Amendment, which restricts flight operations at Dallas/Love Field to help promote traffic at Dallas/Fort Worth, has taken two more weird twists this week. For starters, the latest private deal brokered between DFW-based American Airlines and Love-based Southwest Airlines has run into trouble in Congress. The House Judiciary Committee has stripped the deal of its anti-trust immunity, which makes sense because it calls for a privately owned passenger terminal at Love Field to be demolished over the objections of its owner. House members obviously realize that two airlines doing a deal to restrict competition and destroy facilities that new competitors might use probably won't pass anti-trust muster. And as if to prove the point that low-fare competition suffers at DFW, two low-priced airlines are reducing their flights there. AirTran Airways has suspended its DFW-Las Vegas flights and Spirit Airlines has dumped its DFW-Fort Lauderdale service. DFW Airport officials trumpeted both routes when they were launched as proof that DFW could support low-fare flights. Philadelphia Airport now offers free access to WiFi inside the Terminal B/C Food Court. Elsewhere at PHL, high-speed Internet access costs $7.95 for 24 hours.

Northwest Loses Two on the Labor Front
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of striking mechanics at bankrupt Northwest Airlines. The mechanics struck the airline last summer after management unilaterally imposed huge pay and benefit cuts. The Court said an earlier ruling by an unemployment law judge was incorrect and decided that the unilateral contract terms constituted a lockout. The Court decision clears the way for the striking workers, who were permanently replaced last fall by Northwest, to receive unemployment benefits. The decision might have some effect on the current fight between Northwest and its flight attendants. Northwest unilaterally imposed contract terms on the flight attendants earlier this summer. The flight attendants want to strike, but they await a decision from a federal judge, who has been silent since temporarily halting job actions on August 25. ... Meanwhile, one of Northwest's commuter carriers, bankrupt Mesaba Aviation, has also taken it on the chin from the courts. A federal judge in Minnesota today (September 14) overturned a bankruptcy court's ruling that permitted Mesaba to void the contract of its pilots, mechanics and flight attendants. In a written decision, Judge Michael Davis said Mesaba could not void the existing contracts because the carrier was refusing to negotiate key provisions of the new terms it had hoped to impose on its employees.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Major hotels in San Francisco struck a deal with union workers, ending two years of labor strife. The deal officially covers 13 hotels (including InterContinental and Hilton properties) and will probably extend to 48 more properties in San Francisco and San Mateo. ... Travelers to, from and through Britain take note: The British government is likely to loosen carry-on rules next week. Since shortly after the 8/10 terror scare at London/Heathrow, only one briefcase-sized bag has been allowed as a carry-on. The new rules are likely to allow two normal-sized bags. However, the restriction on liquids and gels is likely to remain. Effective Monday (September 18), Air Canada bans all pets in passenger cabins. Even small dogs and cats will now be required to travel as cargo. Effective January 8, passports will be required for travelers arriving at U.S. airports from Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. That requirement includes U.S. travelers returning from those destinations. Land borders between the United States and Mexico and Canada will adopt the same passport requirement in 2008.

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