The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 30, 2000


This week: The in-flight space race gets nasty; how to profit from the fallout of the US Airways settlement; how we know the "experts" ain't; DFW creates a consolidated rental-car center and terminal shuttle; the Star Alliance creates an around-the-world fare; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The In-Flight Space Race Gets Nasty
United and American airlines are racing to convince customers that their proprietary approaches to adding legroom to coach seats is the one true way to a comfortable flight. Along the way, the space race is getting nasty, with each airline sniping at the other's concept. Since lsat August, United has reconfiguring 450 domestic aircraft with "Economy Plus," a dedicated area at the front of the coach cabin thath offers seats with as much as five extra inches of legroom. Economy Plus is available to travelers who pay full coach fares or premier members of United's frequent-flyer program. United Shuttle flights will not offer Economy Plus; no decision has been made about United's international planes. In contrast, American's plan was launched in February and will add 3-5 inches of legroom at every coach seat in airline's fleet. American says 50 planes were reconfigured by last week and half the domestic fleet of 609 aircraft will be converted by June. The remaining domestic planes will be reconfigured by November, then work will begin on American's 98 international aircraft. American's "one-size-fits-all approach just doesn't work," United president Rono Dutta said recently. "Economy Plus responds to the needs of business travelers. It recognizes that different customers have different needs." Meanwhile, American is bashing Economy Plus. "We think everybody deserves more room in coach," an American executive told me last week. "Besides, you can't police two sections in one cabin. As soon as the doors close, passengers are rushing to fill empty [Economy Plus seats] and no one stops them. It's really disruptive."

DOLLAR WATCH: Profiting from the Fallout at US Airways
There was no strike or shutdown at US Airways, but the fallout from management's brinkmanship may benefit frequent flyers and full-fare travelers in coming months. As you'll recall, airline executives vowed to shut the airline if no deal was reached last weekend. The airline got its agreement with flight attendants, but travelers chose to avoid the chaos and have booked away from the carrier for weeks and months to come. "Advance bookings, especially at business fares, are disastrous," one US Airways official told me. "We'll have to scramble to get people back." The airline's first attempts at recovery were swift and predictable: On Monday, it launched a sale on leisure fares purchased by April 3 and a system-wide double mileage offer valid until May 15. But since US Airways was having trouble luring full-fare flyers in the months before the strike, more remedial measures seem sure to follow. "We need to be creative," another executive said. "We need very inventive perks and promotions if we hope to get business travelers to return." What should you look for? Targeted promotions on specific routes, private sales announced only to the airline's most frequent flyers, and perhaps an offer of instant elite status in the Dividend Miles frequent-flyer plan.

CYBERTRAVELER: "Surprisingly," the Experts Aren't
Gomez Advisors is one of a growing cadre that claims Internet expertise. Or, as the press release announcing the result of its "Spring 2000 Internet Airline Scorecard" immodestly suggests, Gomez is "the world's leading e-commerce authority." What do these experts know about the airlines? Here's how Krista Pappas, director of travel at Gomez Advisors, assesses things: "Online and offline airlines are taking major strides to meet the needs of loyal customers, but surprisingly, we're still not seeing consistent customer service." If you're as clueless as Gomez about the airlines, you'll surely be interested in learning how they rate the websites of 23 U.S. carriers.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Dallas-Fort Worth has opened a 200-acre Rental Car Center. All 11 "on airport" rental firms operate from the facility. A consolidated bus service shuttles travelers between terminals and the rental center. … Swissôtel gets its first property in London on May 1 when it assumes management of The Howard Hotel. … The Federal Aviation Administration is worried that bulkhead cracks could cause a loss of cabin pressure on older Boeing 737s. But it's not too worried. The FAA ordered inspection of 2,500 planes, but gave the airlines four years to complete the review. … Japan's three major carriers--Japan Airlines, All Nippon and Japan Air System--are launching a joint shuttle service between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Osaka. About 35 million people a year travel between Tokyo and Osaka, but most use the high-speed "bullet train." All three carriers currently fly Tokyo-Osaka routes; the shuttle will be cobbled together from existing flights in an attempt to steal market share from the train.

WEEKLY WONDER: Chasing Stars Around the World
The twelve Star Alliance [] airlines are offering "Starlite" round-the-world fares starting at $2,049 a person. The fare covers a maximum of 26,000 miles. A minimum of three stops is required; a maximum of five stopovers is permitted. First and business-class fares are also available.

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