A BRIEFING FOR NOVEMBER 13-27, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Back to the Old Days of Europe's Striking Skies
· Get Out Your Scorecard for These Hotel Changes
· Domestic Fuel Surcharges Disappear (Into Fares)
· Another Huge International Expansion by Delta
· AirTran Airways Adds $15 First-Checked-Bag Fee
· Amex Raises the Foreign-Currency Fee to 2.7%
· Meanwhile, Back in the Wacky Hawaiian Skies
Back to the Bad Old Days of Europe's Striking Skies
A decade of relative peace between European airlines and their labor unions has clearly ended. Strikes and their attendant schedule disruptions are back with a vengeance. Pilots at Air France are due to begin a four-day strike tomorrow (November 14) and you should expect plenty of transatlantic and intra-Europe cancellations. Strikes and work-to-rules campaigns are also back at Alitalia. The eternally troubled carrier has cancelled hundreds of flights this week as labor unions protest the airline's latest "rescue" plan that will lead to about 40 percent of the workforce losing their jobs. And the bad news is just beginning since Alitalia workers say they'll launch a dozen one-day strikes in the next few months. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus is wrangling with its unions, this time over another massive outsourcing/layoff package that the company says is "irreversible." Unions at the Irish carrier say that they'll begin strike actions as early as November 24. And Olympic Airlines and its unions are squabbling, too, as the Greek government once again attempts to unload the carrier on a private buyer.
Get Out Your Scorecard for These Newbies and Flag Changes
It gets a little tiresome to say, but you have to wonder who is going to fill up all these new properties that keep gushing out of the hotel pipeline. This week, it's mostly new limited-service properties and reflagging. Among the baker's dozen of new properties that Hampton Inn has opened in the last few weeks, the most notable are the 146-room property near the Empire State Building in Manhattan and a 119-room branch in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Holiday Inn Express has opened branches in Taichung City and Taoyuan, Taiwan. Aloft, the newest brand from Starwood, has opened a 186-room outpost in the Haidain district of Beijing. Meanwhile, a $10 million renovation has converted the former Four Points at Newark Airport into the Crowne Plaza Newark Airport. The Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, Netherlands, is now part of the Luxury Collection. The once-prestigious Hotel Ambassador on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris' 9th arrondissement, most recently known as the Millennium Opera, is switching to the Radisson flag. It becomes the Radisson Ambassador Hotel on December 31.
Domestic Fuel Surcharges Disappear--Into the Base Fares
International airlines are hurriedly lowering their fuel surcharges as the price of oil has dropped below $60 a barrel. But don't expect such cause-and-effect from the Big Six carriers. They made most of their domestic fuel surcharges disappear last week by rolling them into the base fares. The net effect, at least for now, was no change in the final price of your ticket. However, as traffic drops, the inevitable fare sales that are coming means that prices will begin to fall. So wait them out if you can. Almost as fast as you could say, "Delta began charging $15 to check a first bag last week," its Atlanta-based rival, AirTran Airways, matched. AirTran's $15 fee is effective for flights beginning December 5. Business-class customers and elite frequent flyer program members are exempt. American Express is raising the foreign-transaction fee to 2.7 percent from its current 2 percent. The higher fee, imposed on all charges involving a foreign currency, is effective on January 11. The dollar continues to firm up against the British pound. Today (November 13) it was at $1.47. It's at $1.28 against the euro. It continues to suffer against the Japanese currency, however, and is currently around 96 yen.
Another Huge International Expansion by Delta
You have to wonder what Delta Air Lines' top international honcho, Glen Hauenstein, sees that no one else does in these depressing economic times. Even granting that he's now mixing and matching Delta and Northwest aircraft and hubs, his announcement this week that Delta would add more than a dozen new international routes next year seems reckless. Still, he worked his magic at Continental in the early years of the decade and his international repositioning of Delta beginning immediately after its 2005 bankruptcy filing has been largely successful. But it'll be intriguing to watch to see if this tranche of the expansion is an air bridge too far. Across the Pacific, Delta will link its Salt Lake City hub to Northwest's Tokyo hub for the first time. Delta will also launch a New York/Kennedy-Tokyo route, which essentially reinstates the JFK-Tokyo run that Northwest dropped several years ago. Across the Atlantic, Delta will add flights from its Kennedy hub to Valencia, Spain; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Prague. Also new: a seasonal Kennedy-Zurich flight. But the big boost comes in Africa, where Delta will add new flights from its Atlanta hub to Nairobi, Kenya; Cape Town, South Africa; Monrovia, Liberia; Abuja, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The airline is also adding a Kennedy-Lagos nonstop and an Atlanta-Johannesburg nonstop. This is all atop the previously announced new flights to Paris from Pittsburgh and Raleigh-Durham. But some routes are being cut, however. Northwest's Seattle-London/Heathrow flights are gone effective January 9, just six months after the launch. Also going next year: Northwest's Detroit-Paris and Detroit-Osaka nonstops.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has a new partner for Mileage Plus: Jet Airways of India. Effective December 15, Mileage Plus members can earn and burn on the respected private Indian airline, except for its soon-to-be-discontinued flight from San Francisco to Shanghai. There's lots of consolidation in the airport/hotel WiFi business. AT&T is buying Wayport, which operates WiFi networks in many major airports, some hotels, at Hertz locations and at many McDonald's restaurants. And Boingo Wireless is buying Opti-Fi, which operates WiFi service in about three dozens U.S. and Canadian airports. American Airlines begins offering boarding passes on mobile devices next week. The paperless trial begins at its Chicago/O'Hare hub as well as Los Angeles and John Wayne/Orange County airports.
Meanwhile, Back in the Wacky Hawaiian Skies
It's never boring on the Hawaii inter-island routes. After Aloha Airlines folded earlier this year before the courts could consider its lawsuit against mainland interloper go! and Hawaiian Airlines won a big settlement from go!, things settled down a bit. Fares jumped up and it looked as if Hawaiian and go! would dominate the primary routes. But next week, Mokulele Airlines launches 70-seat regional jet flights on a major inter-island route and has announced its intention to go head-to-head with Hawaiian and go!. The flights will be operated for Mokulele by Republic Airlines, a well-known mainland commuter carrier. What's odd there? Mokulele has been operating as the commuter partner of go!, which is owned by Mesa, itself a large mainland commuter carrier. Naturally, Mokulele and Mesa are now suing each other, alleging everything from non-payment of bills to anti-competitive activity.
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.
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This column is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.