A BRIEFING FOR MARCH 27-APRIL 10, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Orwellian (or Seinfeldian) Acts at the Front Desk
· Delta Continues to Bail on Boston/Logan Service
· Marriott Introduces Walk-Up Award Redemption
· Good News, Bad News at Security Checkpoints
· The Word on T5's Opening at Heathrow: Chaos
· SkyMiles Adds Hawaiian Air--But Not to Hawaii
· New York's Passenger's Rights Bill Strikes Out
Orwellian--or 'Seinfeldian'--Behavior at the Front Desk
When a hotel doesn't honor your reservation and sluffs you off on another (usually lousy) property, it's called "walking." And it's happened to almost all of us. But one company didn't take kindly to the Trump Taj Mahal casino's walking them out of $30,000 worth of prepaid guestrooms before a Christmas party in 2001. The company, now part of Capital One, sued the Atlantic City hotel over its 60 guaranteed rooms, at least 26 of which were never provided. In a 24-day trial in 2006, the Taj Mahal's lawyers made what a three-judge appellate court last week called an "Orwellian" argument. The hotel claimed the prepayment would only hold the mortgage company's reservations, not any actual rooms. The court rejected the argument and ordered the hotel to pay $200,000 in damages and fees. That's good news for all of us who've ever been walked, but I have to admit I don't find the Taj Mahal's defense so much Orwellian as Seinfeldian. As you may recall, Jerry Seinfeld once uttered a memorable line after a car-rental firm ran out of cars and wouldn't honor his reservation. "You know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation and that's really the most important part of the reservation, the holding," Seinfeld noted.
Delta Continues to Bail on Boston/Logan Service
Even as it completed a pre-planned move to its spiffy new quarters at Boston/Logan Airport in recent years, Delta Air Lines has shrunk its presence at New England's primary destination. Another shoe dropped this week when the airline announced that it was dropping flights to six cities. By May, it will eliminate nonstop service from Logan to Las Vegas; New Orleans; Greensboro, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Louisville, Kentucky; and Charleston, South Carolina. Delta is also cutting back to one daily flight from Boston to Los Angeles. … Doubletree Hotels has opened an outpost at West Palm Beach. The 175-room property has been operating as a Radisson. … Star Alliance carriers, including United Airlines, have moved into the new Terminal 3 in Beijing. The Star Alliance carriers are also moving to Terminal 2 in Shanghai/Pudong this month; United shifts on April 29.
Marriott Introduces Walk-Up Award Redemption
Here's something we haven't seen before: Marriott Rewards now allows members to redeem points for free rooms on a walk-up basis. Assuming you're willing to pay the full (Stay Anytime) rate, all you have to do is walk up to the front desk and claim a room. (Assuming there's a vacancy, of course.) The walk-up award scheme is only available at Marriott properties in the continental United States. … Alaska Airlines is taking its Mileage Plan program off-line for eight days later this month. Members won't be able to use the Alaska Air Web site for any frequent flyer program activity between April 14 and April 22. … Hawaiian Airlines has joined the Delta SkyMiles program. But the cooperation is limited. SkyMiles members can claim awards on Hawaiian's inter-island service and the Hawaiian carrier's flights from Honolulu to Sydney, Australia, and Manila in the Philippines. But SkyMiles won't be valid for free seats on Hawaiian's flights from the West Coast to Hawaii.
Good News and Bad News at the Security Checkpoints
As we said two weeks ago, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) promised an extraordinary fast--and extraordinarily suspect--rollout of its segmented security line process. After rapid tests at Denver and Salt Lake City, the three-line system (black diamond for "expert" frequent flyers and separate lines and colors for less experienced travelers) has already opened in three other airports: Boston/Logan, Orlando and Spokane. … Clear, the privately owned registered-traveler program that the TSA is hoping to kill with the segmented lanes, has opened its own line at Oakland Airport … New Homeland Security Department (DHS) rules for drivers licenses as acceptable security-checkpoint identification go into effect on May 11. About a dozen state licenses do not qualify, but the DHS has issued some waivers. However, four states--Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina--have not applied for a waiver and the deadline for applications is Monday, March 31. If you live in one of those states, have your passports ready.
The Word on the T5 Opening at Heathrow: Chaos
After two decades of planning, squabbling and building, British Airways and the British Airports Authority (BAA) today (March 27) opened the $8.5 billion Terminal 5 at London/Heathrow Airport. The one-word review: chaos. That's not my assessment, but the word used by the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Times of London and the Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse wire services. Despite opening-day boasts by BAA and many assurances of seamless operations by BA, the sole tenant of T5, it didn't take long for matters to spiral out of control. BA cancelled almost three dozen flights--about 10 percent of its first-day schedule at T5--and the much-touted, state-of-the-art luggage system had the mechanical equivalent of a nervous breakdown. For bad measure, the terminal was hit with a protest by several hundred anti-growth demonstrators. BA apologized for the snafus and characterized the issues as "teething problems." And there is good news for customers on BA's U.S. routes. With the exception of Los Angeles and San Francisco flights, U.S. service doesn't move to T5 until April 30. (An update at 11 a.m. ET, Friday, March 28: T5's "chaos"--the BCC, Reuters and The Telegraph newspaper have begun to use the term, too--has continued into a second day. BA has cancelled at least 20 percent of its T5 schedule today and chief executive Willie Walsh said the problems would continue into the weekend.)
Businesss-Travel News You Need to Know
This will only surprise credulous observers: New York State's passenger's rights bill was struck down by a federal appeals court. The Second Circuit Court had no real problem with the law's intent--to require airlines to provide food, water and clean bathrooms for flights stuck on the tarmac--but ruled that only the federal government has the right to regulate airline service. The so-called preemption doctrine is based on the terms of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act. … Aloha Airlines, which declared bankruptcy last week, says it is for sale, in whole or in part. … Remember Carol Gotbaum, who died in police custody last fall after an incident at Phoenix/Sky Harbor Airport? The family is now suing Phoenix and its police department for wrongful death. Gotbaum, who was traveling from New York to Tucson to enter an alcohol-rehabilitation program, was taken into custody after flying into a rage when she missed her US Airways connection flight. The family admitted Gotbaum was a "sick, intoxicated and vulnerable" person, yet allowed her to fly alone. Gotbaum died in a holding cell, apparently strangling herself when she tried to escape her handcuffs.
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 © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.