THE BRIEFING FOR NOVEMBER 15-29, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli
· Fare Games, Surcharge Tricks and Oil Prices
· Notable New Hotels in the Worldwide Roster
· Alternate Carriers Trim Their Route Networks
· Airlines Are on the Move at Major Airports
· The International Flights Keep on Coming
· Headed to Japan? Smile and Say 'Sushi'!
· Flying to Santa Fe? No, You're Not...
Fare Games, Surcharge Tricks and the Price of Oil
The price of crude oil reached $98 a barrel last week and the talking-head experts were all gearing up for the moment when it passed the emotionally important $100-a-barrel mark. But the markets turned, oil prices have dropped this week and crude oil was trading as "low" as $90 today. But that hasn't stopped the airlines from gleefully adding or raising fuel surcharges as well as increasing structural airfares. At least five large international airlines--British Airways, Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Mexicana--raised fuel surcharges this week. And United Airlines has slapped a $5 one-way surcharge on its domestic fares. Now let's forget for a moment that United exited bankruptcy 19 months ago with a 5-year plan that predicted oil prices at $50 a barrel and its financial executives ridiculed anyone who suggested the assumption was ludicrous. Let's concentrate instead on the difference between a fare increase and a fuel surcharge. If airlines simply raise fares to compensate for rising fuel prices, it must then discount those fares to companies that have corporate discount programs. But fuel surcharges are in addition to any prevailing fares and are not subject to corporate discounts. And what happens to fuel surcharges when oil prices decline? As they have done in the past, the airlines will roll the surcharges into the existing fare structure, thus ensuring that prices don't come down when oil prices drop.
Notable New Hotels in the Worldwide Roster
These are boom times for hotel chains and they're rushing to expand their roster of properties worldwide. Here's what's new and notable. Westin has opened properties in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington/National Airport, and at Baltimore/Washington Airport. Hampton Inn opened nine properties in October, including hotels near Washington/Dulles and Raleigh-Durham airports. Marriott has opened a 314-room Courtyard property on Rajdamri Road in Bangkok. InterContinental has opened a 500-room hotel in the Festival City development in Dubai. Two more InterContinental brands will open in the development next month. And, of course, there are endless reflaggings. Detroit's former Hotel Pontchartrain near Cobo Hall is now the Sheraton Detroit Riverside. The Holiday Inn in Tysons Corner, Virginia, is now a Crowne Plaza. So is the former Holiday Inn Select in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Finally, the Hotel Pierre in New York will close on December 31 for a renovation of the 200 guestrooms. However, the function rooms and public areas will remain open since the famed property facing Central Park is also a swanky residential building.
On Second Thought, Maybe Not
The best-run alternate carriers generally pick routes more carefully and less frenetically than the legacy airlines. But even the smart alternate airlines guess wrong from time to time. Frontier Airlines, for example, is throwing in the towel on Memphis, the Northwest hub where Frontier had tried to establish a beachhead. Except for flights to its Denver hub, Frontier will drop Memphis from its route map in January. The airline is also trimming some of its flights to Mexico from Denver and California. JetBlue Airways is also cutting some cities. Nashville and Columbus will go as will its transcontinental flight between Oakland and Fort Lauderdale. All of the cancellations are effective beginning in January.
Airlines Are on the Move at Major Airports
Just in time to confuse less-sophisticated holiday travelers, major carriers are moving to new neighborhoods at some big airports. In Philadelphia, for example, Delta Air Lines has moved to A-East Concourse and its flights will operate from Gates A10, A12 and A13. And at Boston/Logan, Continental Airlines has moved to Terminal A and will use gates A5-A8 as well as the commuter remote locations from Gates A11A and A12A. Two notable developments at Los Angeles International. The Oneworld Alliance has opened a joint lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Located on Level 5, it serves passengers flying British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Japan Airlines and LAN. There are separate lounges for first- and business-class flyers. Meanwhile, the restaurant in the iconic Theme Building has reopened for lunch seven days a week and dinner on Friday and Saturday night. The observation lounge has not reopened. American Airlines has opened a temporary Admirals Club at Miami Airport. It is located on Concourse E and replaces the facility on Concourse A. American also operates a lounge on Concourse D. Sante Fe is falling off the route map. Great Lakes, which flies to Denver, is dropping service on December 10. And the commuter carriers of American and Delta have delayed the start of Santa Fe flights until late January or February.
The Overseas Flights Keep on Coming
U.S. legacy carriers are busily slashing domestic capacity and pumping up their international routes. In other words, they are turning themselves into Pan Am in apparent disregard of the fact that the imbalance between its domestic and international service is part of what doomed the so-called "Chosen Instrument." Historical warnings aside, here's just some of what's coming next month: Continental Airlines will begin regional-jet flights between Newark and Mont-Tremblant, Canada, on December 14. American Airlines begins service from its Chicago/O'Hare hub to Buenos Aires on December 13. Boeing 767s configured with 221 business-class and coach seats will be used on the route. And United Airlines launches nonstop Boeing 777 flights from Los Angeles to Frankfurt on December 15. LTU, the German carrier, has been purchased by Air Berlin. That means its flights to Dόsseldorf from New York, Los Angeles and Florida will now carry the Air Berlin name.
Headed to Japan? Smile and Say 'Sushi'!
Effective on Tuesday (November 20), visitors arriving at Japanese airports will be fingerprinted and photographed at the immigration barrier. Before you complain, you should know that the Japanese move is based on a program instituted in 2004 at U.S. airports. Six passengers are suing American Airlines after an August flight from San Diego returned to the gate when the flight crew became uncomfortable with them. The Michigan men of Arab descent were removed from the flight and questioned by authorities. They were not arrested and no charges were ever filed against them. The other passengers on the flight were also inconvenienced because the flight didn't depart before San Diego's 11:30 p.m. curfew. Denver Airport says it will implement Clear technology. Clear has been reduced to a jump-the-line program since the Transportation Security Administration has barred meaningful "registered traveler" security bypass.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
AirTran Airways now permit flyers to check-in using their mobile devices. They can then pick up a printed boarding pass at special kiosks at AirTran ticket counters. Cabin-crew shortages at British Airways have led the carrier to run about a dozen empty flights from London/Heathrow to the United States and Canada. Travelers originally booked on those flights were reaccommodated. The empty flights were operated with just cargo and flight-desk crew so the planes could be in position for the return flights from the United States and Canada. SkyTeam has a new member: China Southern Airlines. Thrifty Car Rentals has introduced an hourly rental program at its two locations in Manhattan. The rate is $19 for two hours. US Airways is now a defendant in a lawsuit filed by relatives of five members of a family killed when a drunken driver hit their van. The drunken driver had been a passenger on a US Airways flight and witnesses claim that flight attendants served him alcohol even though he appeared intoxicated. The incident took place in New Mexico and the airline no longer sells alcohol on New Mexico flights.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.