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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 2, 1999


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Labor unrest for Labor Day; here comes the parade of Europe deals for the fall; out of the mouth of passengers; Amtrak delays Acela service again; a hotel bargain (including breakfast) in New York; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Labor Unrest for Labor Day
Labor Day is supposed to be a time for commemorating the efforts of the working man, but employees at several major carriers continue to battle protracted contract hassles. That could make for a difficult autumn for business travelers. Most immediately, mechanics at US Airways has set a strike deadline for later this month. The mechanics, who have been negotiating with US Airways since 1995, say they will strike at 12:01AM on September 26 if an agreement is not reached. Over at Northwest Airlines, flight attendants last week soundly rejected a tentative 5-year contract offer by a 3-1 margin. The flight attendants have been working without an agreement since 1996. They wouldn't be able to strike until after federal officials declared an impasse and a 30-day cooling off period expired. And don't take your eyes off American Airlines. American officially integrated Reno Air into its system on Tuesday without an agreement with its pilots. As you recall, American's plans for Reno led to a disruptive pilot sickout earlier this year and the pilots are working under a court injunction. But nerves are raw and the situation may flare up at any time.

DOLLAR WATCH: Falling Prices in Europe
The annual summer horde of European vacationers have mostly returned home and that means the airlines will be scrambling to fill empty seats on flights across the pond. This fall may bring especially deep price cuts and special deals because traffic--and especially high-yield premium-class travel--is extremely week. Among the deals already announced: Austrian Airlines (800-843-0002) has posted a $340 roundtrip on its new flight between Atlanta and Vienna. The Atlanta-Vienna flight begins October 1; tickets must be purchased by September 24 travel completed by December 18. Destination Europe (800-835-1555) is selling Icelandair flights to London and eight other European cities for prices as low as $387 roundtrip. The prices are valid for travel until October 31. Air Europe (888-999-9090) has announced a $394 roundtrip fare on its New York-Pisa-Venice flights. The fare is valid from October 1 through March. British Airways (888-698-4290) is offering two free coach tickets to any passenger who flies a transatlantic roundtrip in BA's business class by December 15. To qualify for the freebies (valid for flights from January 15-December 15, 2000), travelers must be members of BA's frequent-travel program and provide feedback on the service they received.

CYBERTRAVELER: Back to the Future
Iridium was first to market with a hand-held satellite telephone, but the Motorola-led consortium filed for bankruptcy last month after a disastrous first year. And even though it has yet to get its satellite handset into the hands of travelers, ICO Global Communications filed for bankruptcy several days later. So where's a globe-trotting business traveler to go for worldwide mobile phone service? Back to the future, by renting a good old reliable cellular phone. The best known cellular rental firm, WorldCell.com, says its phones work in 90 countries. But there are other players, including Action Cellular Rent A Phone, International Cellular Services, Hirefone USA, Globafone and Rent-a-phone.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Out of the Mouth of Passengers
When United and American airlines recently wrote passengers to apologize for the upsurge in flight delays, the Associated Press quoted Bob Raymond, a frequent-flying pharmaceuticals salesman who simply didn't buy the airline line. "The airlines have no credibility," Raymond told the AP. "Not a shred." Out of the mouth of passengers comes something remarkably like the truth. For while the bosses of several major carriers have publicly blamed the air-traffic control system and the Federal Aviation Administration for the uptick in delays, a look at their flight schedules tells a different story altogether. Take Continental, for example, where chief executive Gordon Bethune has been on the warpath, excoriating the FAA for "horror stories" at Cleveland's Hopkins Airport and his other hubs. But what Bethune so conveniently ignores is the massive increase in Continental's flights. Just during the summer months, Continental and Continental Express have added or announced new or expanded service from Cleveland to New York/Kennedy, Quebec City, Boston, London and Chihuahua, Mexico. At Houston, this summer's new, announced, or expanded service includes flights to Knoxville, Dayton, Huntsville, Sao Paulo and Saltillo, Mexico. At Newark, Continental has added flights to St. Thomas, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv. So before you swallow whole the airlines' attempt to shift blame for its poor on-time performance this summer, perform a credibility check.

CONNECTIONS: News Worth Noting
Despite a frenzy of self-generated publicity, Amtrak's Acela high-speed rail service won't be launching in the East Coast Corridor this fall after all. The new 150-mile-per-hour train is off the tracks until sometime next year. A business-class passenger on Air New Zealand flight from Los Angeles last week lifted her blanket found a rat nestled in her lap. The airline says it's sorry. Don't be shocked if you find the big blue ball of Pan Am back on the tarmac. The Department of Transportation has found the third incarnation of Pan Am fit to restart scheduled service. The current owners would operate the carrier from a hub in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Hilton is negotiating to purchase Promus Hotels Corp., which operates the Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn brands. If consummated, a Hilton-Promus combination could set off another round of hotel-industry consolidation.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: A Quick Hit in New York
The Avalon Hotel (888-HI-AVALON) in New York has cut rates as low as $169 a night through September 19. The "End of Summer" promotion includes continental breakfast at Larry Forgione's Coach House, a new restaurant operated by the super-chef in the hotel's lobby.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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