The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 21 TO JUNE 28, 2001


This week: hotels extend energy surcharge to more properties; Southwest Airlines flies into its 30th year; Hertz adds luxury car rentals at 20 airports; Detroit/Metro will increase its passenger-facility fees; American Airlines races a July 1 deadline in contract negotiations with flight attendants; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Hotel Energy Surcharges Head East
Business travelers generally shrugged off energy surcharges when they began appearing on bills at California hotels, but the fees are suddenly popping up without much advance notice at properties around the nation. Three weeks ago, for example, many chains operated by Marriott began adding surcharges of $1.50-$6 a night in 15 markets nationwide. Hilton has added a $3-a-night fee at many of its company-owned and managed hotels in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas and in major business centers throughout the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Starwood, which began the energy surcharge binge earlier this year, is now also imposing them in additional areas. Independents are also slapping on a surcharge. Since advance disclosure has been sporadic at best--and since not all hotels in the same market are charging a fee--make sure to ask about energy levies before booking a reservation.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Southwest Turns 30! Someone Pay Attention!
It was 30 years ago this week that Southwest Airlines started flying all-coach Boeing 737s in the "Texas Triangle" of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. At the time, Southwest promised the "best on-time service, the most attractive hostesses and the fastest ticketing." The odyssey has been something more spectacular, however. Southwest has grown into the world's fourth largest airline in terms of passengers served, it operates more than 2,700 flights a day with a fleet of 350 Boeing 737s, and it flies to 57 cities. Southwest also has the lowest rate of passenger complaints, the lowest average fares and the most consistently profitable balance sheet in commercial aviation. But for all this success--and for all the market share Southwest has grabbed from its hapless competitors--no other carrier in the industry has been smart enough to mimic Southwest. The other majors continue to blindly stumble down the path of high fares, indifferent service and incredibly cyclical profitability. You'd think some airline would have learned something from Southwest after 30 years of getting its clock cleaned.

CONNECTIONS: Airport News You Need to Know
has introduced The Prestige Collection luxury-car program at 20 airports in the United States and Canada. The service includes four models of Volvo; the Lincoln LS and Navigator SUV; the Land Rover; and two models of Jaguar. Travelers can even reserve cars by specific model; prices start at about $69 a day. Watch for the $3 passenger-facility charge at Detroit/Metro to increase to $4.50 a passenger before the end of the summer. A Laptop Lane business center has opened at the new international terminal at San Francisco. Located near Boarding Area G, the facility offers conference rooms and six private cubicles equipped with desktop computers, laptop computer hookups, printer/fax machines, Internet access and multi-line telephones. Prices start at $60 an hour for conference rooms; cubicles rent for $5 for the first five minutes and 65 cents for each additional minute. Albuquerque has opened a central car-rental facility and travelers must hail a common-use shuttle bus to reach their rental firm. Surprising absolutely no one, the Federal Aviation Administration says geographic realities offer "little opportunity" for new or expanded runways at overburdened New York/LaGuardia Airport.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Politics of Aviation Money
That familiar rejoinder from Watergate's Deep Throat--"follow the money"--makes especially good sense when you want to track the twisted relationship between America's airlines and the nation's politicians. Follow the money yourself by surfing to the Open Secrets website. What will you learn? The airline industry contributed more than $6.8 million during the 1999-2000 election cycle. That's a 60 percent increase over industry contributions during the 1996 presidential election season. More than two thirds of that funding went to Republicans. Air-transport unions contributed $2.2 million during the recent elections; more than 80 percent of those funds went to Democrats.

STRIKE WATCH: Racing the Clock at American
American Airlines and its flight attendants resumed contract talks yesterday as the two sides raced a July 1 strike deadline. President Bush can delay a strike for 60 days, but only if the National Mediation Board requests his intervention. Pilots at Cathay Pacific have approved a series of unspecified job actions beginning July 1. A 1999 row between the Hong Kong-based carrier and its pilots led to two weeks of flight disruptions, delays and cancellations. Results of the contract vote by striking Comair pilots may be known today. The strike is now in its 12th week. And lest you think pilots are overpaid prima donnas, it is worth noting that the proposed contract would pay newly hired Comair pilots $21 an hour. The salary of an 8-year Comair captain would rise to $88.10 an hour.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.