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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 16, 1999


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Listen to Delta at your own risk; seat maps on the Web; the dollar loses some steam overseas; the gasoline rip-off at car-rental firms; Hurricane Dennis cripples East Coast airports; free navigation systems from Hertz; and more.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Listen to Delta at Your Own Risk
When Delta Air Lines chose Leo Burnett as its new advertising agency last week, Delta chief executive Leo Mullin made one of those remarks that proves airlines really do think they can fool all of the travelers all of the time. Commenting on the Burnett appointment, Mullin said that "Customers feel airlines have stopped listening to them, so they have stopped listening to airlines. Delta is doing a lot to improve customer service and we need to communicate with our customers more." Well, business travelers, listen to this: On the same day that Mullin gushed about Delta's improvement, the Department of Transportation issued its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. It showed that Delta bumped more passengers in the second quarter than any other carrier. In fact, Delta involuntarily denied boarding to 5,519 passengers in April, May and June, almost half the 11,908 bumps racked up by the 10 major carriers combined. Embarrassed by a similar ranking last winter, Delta publicly vowed to improve its performance. When queried by an Associated Press reporter about why the carrier hadn't delivered on its promise, an airline spokesman said Delta had "seen major progress" in its denied-boarding performance "starting in July."

CYBERTRAVELER: You Are Where You Sit
One of the joys of the Internet is around-the-clock access to useful airline information that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to obtain. One example: airline seat maps. Most airlines now have placed seat maps for their equipment somewhere on their websites, but About.com has gone the carriers one better. Its Airline Seat Maps page offers hot links directly to the seat maps of more than thirty carriers.

DOLLAR WATCH: Not So Almighty Now
After years of rising rapidly against the Japanese yen and a year-long run against the Euro, the Almighty Dollar has been humbled again. Late last year, the dollar reached about 145 yen, but it has been retreating for most of 1999. On Tuesday, it sold around 106 yen, a three-year low. For travelers to Japan, that means a 25 percent increase in the cost of hotel rooms, meals and other essentials. The Euro, which controls the values of a dozen European currencies, debuted this year at US$1.13, then plummeted to near-parity with the dollar this spring. Now, however, it has rebounded to the US$1.05 level and continues to gain. This week's rapacious car-rental rip off: The price rental firms charge to refill the gas tank when you return a car. In Los Angeles and New York, for example, the major firms now charge more than $4 a gallon. Even in smaller markets, the rental firms are charging up to $3.75. That compares to a nationwide average of about $1.20 for a gallon of gas.

AIRPORT REPORT: Chaos on the East Coast
The weakened entrails of Hurricane Dennis wreaked havoc with the schedules of business travelers all along the East Coast last week. On Thursday, long after the storm has weakened, Eastern cities were lashed with high winds and heavy rains. The result: delays reaching seven hours at Dulles International in suburban Washington and up to three-hour delays at the New York airports. A similar scenario was set to replay this week in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. On Tuesday, the carriers canceled flights in Florida and the Carolinas and expected long delays later in the week on flights in the heavily traveled Boston-Washington Corridor. "Everyone focuses on the hurricane itself and that's understandable," one airline weather expert said Tuesday morning. "But business travelers need to watch for the remnants of a storm. Two or three days after the hurricane is over, the rain and wind that's left over destroys our ability to operate further up the East Coast." The worst news of all? This is expected to be the worst hurricane season in a generation. Some weather observers are predicting schedule-busting storms on regular intervals throughout the remainder of September and October.

WEEKLY WONDER: Navigate for Free
Hertz (800-654-2210) has been promoting the daylights out of NeverLost its in-car navigation system. Now it's offering business travelers a price concession to get you to try the dashboard-mounted system. Travelers who use an American Express card will receive two days free use of NeverLost on rentals of at least three days. NeverLost-equipped vehicles usually command a premium of $6 a day. The promotion in valid at most U.S. locations until January 31; mention promotion code 904282.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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