This week: Delta hits the skids in its squabble with pilots; our weekly look at the nation's alternative airlines; an Alitalia protest Web site joins other anti-airline sites; Bush's nominee for Transportation Secretary is a qualified token Democrat; free flights to and hotel rooms in Hawaii suddenly get scarcer; and much more.
COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Delta Hits the Skids
Winter storms made for rough travel over the holidays, but Delta Air Lines passengers were the biggest losers. The airline hit the skids over the New Year's Weekend and canceled more than 2,000 flights; Delta claims as many as half of the cancellations were caused by pilot shortages, not weather conditions. Delta pilots have been refusing to work voluntary overtime as a tactic to force the airline to negotiate a new contract. The airline and the pilots are scheduled to meet again today (January 4) with federal mediators, but that isn't stopping Delta from its quixotic legal effort to require pilots to accept voluntarily overtime. Delta is headed to the 11th US Circuit Court in Atlanta on January 11 to press its unprecedented demand even though two lower courts have already ruled against the airline. Meanwhile, Delta is now preemptively canceling about 2 percent of its January schedule and about 4 percent of its February flying. Bottom line for travelers: Book away from Delta whenever possible. If you already have reservations, check with Delta before you travel to see if your flight is even scheduled to operate.
ALTERNATE ITINERARY: A Weekly Look at America's Other Carriers
Sun seekers take note: AirTran Airways has launched daily B-717 service between its Atlanta hub and Grand Bahama Island. … Vanguard Airlines is adding new routes on Sunday from its hub in Kansas City. There will be twice-daily nonstop service to Austin and nonstop flights to Buffalo and Myrtle Beach. … Legend Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy protection on December 3, has secured new financing and hopes to resume flying late this month. Based at Dallas/Love Field, the luxury carrier says it will probably restart its New York/LaGuardia and Washington/Dulles routes first. … Another startup, Allegiant Air, filed Chapter 11 last month. It has canceled all scheduled flights except its Fresno-Las Vegas route.
CYBERTRAVELER: Hate Your Airline? Build a Website!
Everybody hates their airline sometimes, but when you're really ticked, build a website. It not only makes you feel better, it generates worldwide attention and sometimes sends the offending airline into a fantod. So it is with AlitaliaSucks.com, a protest site built by William Porta. Alitalia admits it lost Porta's luggage last October when he traveled to Mumbai, India, to be the best man at a formal wedding. Porta doesn't like how Alitalia dealt with him, so he opened the site. Alitalia promptly took offense and has gone to court to squash it. As of noon Wednesday, however, you can still read Porta's tale of woe on the Web. AlitaliaSucks.com joins existing passenger sites that attack United (http://www.untied.com), Northwest (http://www.northworstair.org) and the Delta Air Lines Skymiles (http://www.saveskymiles.com) program. On the other hand, Airlines Suck (http://www.airlinessuck.com) has a mad on for all carriers.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A Token By Any Other Name
Lacking a national transportation vision of his own, President-elect George Bush could have done much worse than his choice of Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta as his designate for Secretary of Transportation. The 69-year-old Mineta spent 21 years representing the Silicon Valley in Congress and is an acknowledged expert in aviation issues. In fact, he chaired a commission that warned three years ago about gridlock in the nation's skies. Mineta is also a hero: He survived a Japanese Internment camp during World War II and later sponsored the 1988 federal legislation that apologized for the internment and provided token payments to survivors. But make no mistake about it: Mineta is a token, the lone Democrat appointment to the Bush Cabinet. His chances of influencing Republicans are nil and the opportunity to creatively impact Transportation policy may be negligible. "Forget the happy talk," one Washington insider told me after Mineta's appointment was announced Tuesday. "Washington will get ugly fast because Republicans don't truly think they have to share power and Democrats think they won the election." Mineta, he insisted, "is as much sacrificial lamb as token. I'll be shocked if he survives two years."
MILES AND POINTS: Seats and Hotels Will Get Tighter in Hawaii
Hawaii is one of the most sought after destinations for business travelers hoping to transform frequent-travel miles and points into free vacations. But two separate moves will make it more difficult for travelers to cash in for Hawaii this winter. Effective February 15, United Airlines is dropping its nonstop flight between Chicago/O'Hare and Honolulu. That daily service has been a staple for Midwest and East Coast members of United Mileage Plus who use miles for free Hawaii travel. They now need to compete with Western travelers for seats on United's Hawaii flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Meanwhile, the four Prince hotels in Hawaii have decided to drop the Westin name and depart from the Starwood Preferred Guest program. The properties--the Hawaii Prince in Honolulu, the Maui Prince, and the Mauna Kea Beach and Hapuna Beach resorts on the Big Island--abandon the Westin affiliation and the Preferred Guest program on January 31. Preferred Guest still offers about a dozen other Hawaii properties under the Sheraton, Westin, W and Luxury Collection banners, but the four Prince properties represented about 20 percent of Starwood's room inventory in the Islands.