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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 14, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Flying first class in Delta's dust; local voices on the Northwest strike; flat-rate mobile-phone pricing; a book of business-travel tips; a new Swiss carrier slashes fare; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Flying First in Delta's Dust
Delta Air Lines has scrapped its 15-month attempt to sell both first and business-class service on international flights. Starting in December, Delta moves to two cabins: standard coach and a "super-business" class akin to the service offered by Continental, TWA, Virgin Atlantic and US Airways. Delta clearly doesn't have its two-class act in order yet. In its announcement last week, Delta didn't have a name for the new cabin and released no details about the chairs, the seat pitch, the in-flight service or amenities. In fact, the retrofit of Delta's fleet of 767s and MD-11s won't even start until December. The conversion period will last eight months. And therein lies an opportunity to fly first for the cost of business class. Delta will stop selling first-class tickets on December 1, but it will continue flying some planes equipped with its first-class cabins for months afterward. Who gets those old first-class seats? Travelers who pay business-class fares and are smart enough to request far-forward seats, which, of course, will be located in the soon-to-disappear first-class cabin. Talk to your travel professional, examine Delta's international seat maps carefully, and think tactically for the next several months.

CYBERTRAVELER: Local Voices on Northwest
The pilot strike at Northwest was just the start of the labor troubles at the nation's fourth-largest airline. The carrier's machinists rejected a contract offer recently and are prepared to set a strike deadline as soon as a federally mandated 30-day "cooling off" period is imposed. Flight attendants and just about everyone else at the airline are also working without a contract. How do you keep up with the soap opera? Try the local papers in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit, Northwest's domestic hubs. The web site of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (www.pioneerpress.com) did a bang-up job covering the pilots strike. So did the web sites of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) and the Detroit Free-Press (www.freep.com).

DOLLAR WATCH: Flat-Rate Phone Pricing
When AT&T Wireless (800-IMAGINE) introduced the Digital One Rate plan (Tactical Traveler, June 1), we predicted its flat-rate, nationalwide pricing scheme would revolutionize the wireless-phone business. After all, who wouldn't want to pay less for cell calls (as low as 11 cents a minute) than most people pay for corded calls? It's taken months for AT&T's national competitors to catch up--at first, in fact, they denied One Rate was particularly innovative!--but now they've leveled the playing field. Sprint (800-480-4PCS), Omnipoint (800-BUY-OMNI), and Nextel (800-NEXTEL9) have all introduced similar flat-rate plans in recent days. The bottom line: check your service provider and make sure you're got the most practical and cost-effective plan. Meanwhile, the presumptive satellite-phone revolution suffered two setbacks last week. Iridium (www.iridium.com), which hoped to start its one world/one phone commercial service next week, has delayed the launch of its service for at least a month. And GlobalStar, which planned to begin worldwide wireless service next year, lost a dozen communications satellites when a rocket failed on takeoff.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: All You Need Are Tips
You've probably seen Chris McGinnis on his early-morning CNN gig or read his business-travel column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Now he's got a new book, "The Unofficial Business Traveler's Pocket Guide." Except for the fact that the paperback is too fat and too wide to fit in any pocket I've got, I can recommend it unconditionally. New business travelers will learn a ton from the book's 165 well organized tips. Savvy business travelers will find it a terrific reference work and a marvelous cheat sheet. Published by McGraw-Hill, it's a bargain at $10.95; it is available in most bookstores or at the sundry shops located inside many Marriott hotels.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: New Airline, Cheap Fares
It isn't every day a new airline starts. In fact, when we're talking transatlantic carriers, it isn't even every decade. But Swiss World Airways got off the ground on September 10, inaugurating six-day-a-week service between Newark and Geneva, Switzerland. Conceived in a pique after Swissair moved most of its transatlantic service from Geneva to Zurich, Swiss World has been more than a year in the making. The payoff for the wait: rock-bottom fares. Until September 22, a rebate deal will knock one-way fares down to $84 in coach. One-way business fares are as low as $334 and first-class seats are as low as $634. After September 22, the one-way price structure will be $168 (coach), $668 (business) and $1,268 (first). The toll-free reservation number is 011-800-11-767-767.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.