The Tactical Traveler



This week: Airlines eliminate many international first-class cabins; two carriers cut back on in-flight food and two others try selling it; more hotels switch brand names; the Euro surges against the U.S. dollar; British Airways rolls out the winter's first ultra-cheap fare to London; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Incredible, Shrinking First Class
Quietly, almost out of view of average travelers, first-class cabins are disappearing from many international flights. As part of its cost-cutting efforts, for example, American Airlines is in the process of dropping first class on many Latin American and secondary European routes. US Airways, which added first-class cabins on transatlantic flights several years ago as part of then-chief executive Steve Wolf's suicidal expansion plans, is now returning to the business-and-coach configuration favored by Delta, Continental and Northwest. And, effective this weekend, Lufthansa is dropping first-class service on its routes to Frankfurt from Boston and Philadelphia. The German carrier says several other U.S. routes will also lose first-class cabins in the coming months.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Food on the Fly Is Scarcer and Costlier
What's worse than the in-flight food? Airlines eliminating in-flight meals. What's worse than that? Airlines trying to sell you in-flight food service. Both are now happening at the U.S. carriers. United Airlines began another cost-cutting campaign this week and one of the casualties was in-flight food service. The cuts even include meals and snacks on many first-class flights. Its new code-share partner, US Airways, is also cutting back. Some of its changes: elimination of hot meals on transcon and Caribbean flights, less food offered on US Airways Shuttle flights and even the elimination of fruit baskets in business class on the airline's international flights. Meanwhile, both America West and Northwest are testing programs to sell you food during a flight. On some coach flights from its Phoenix hub, for example, America West is selling snack boxes for $3 and entrées for as much as $10. At Northwest, the paid-food test includes a $10 sandwich basket that comes with a side salad, fruit, bottled water and cookies.

IN THE LOBBY: New Hotels and Old Hotels With New Names
Homewood Suites, Hilton's mid-priced, extended-stay brand, has opened a 177-unit property just north of San Francisco International Airport. ... Sonesta Hotels is opening a 400-room property in Sunny Isles, Florida, on January 27. The hotel is called the Trump International Sonesta Beach and is managed by Sonesta. ... Westin Hotels has taken over at the former Doubletree Hotel in Pasadena. The 350-room property is slated for a $9 million renovation. ... Le Meridien has lost control of two properties. Ritz-Carlton is now managing the former Le Royal Meridien in Bahrain. And the Le Meridien in New Orleans has become the New Orleans Grande Hotel. ... Hilton International has taken over the 194-room hotel in Nicosia, Cyprus, that was formerly known as the Forum Intercontinental Hotel.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: The Euro Is Humbling the Dollar
A year ago this week, the Euro was experiencing its first glitches as a street-level currency. And the infant was relatively weak, selling for just 90 cents. But what a difference a year makes. The Euro has climbed 17 percent against the once-almighty dollar and now commands $1.05. And that means goods purchased in Euros--restaurant meals, cab rides, hotel rooms--cost Americans 17 percent more than last year. ... Noticed a difference in the International Herald Tribune in the last week? No surprise. The paper is now entirely under the control of The New York Times, which has ended a generation-long partnership with The Washington Post. The paper has already purged most of the news and sports content provided by The Post and even the editorials are now written by New York-based by staffers of The Times.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has introduced a series of walk-up, one-way fares from its Chicago/O'Hare and Denver hubs that are 40 percent lower than unrestricted coach fares. The new fares do not require a Saturday stay, but are nonrefundable. ... American Express Platinum cardholders who buy tickets on Delta Air Lines now receive day-of-travel access to Delta Crown Rooms. Amex has similar arrangements with Northwest and Continental. ... US Airways announced a $15 one-way fuel surcharge on tickets just before New Year's Day. It canceled the fee several days later when no other U.S. carriers matched. In Canada, however, low-fare WestJet imposes a fuel surcharge beginning Friday (January 10). The fee ranges from C$5-C$10, depending on flight distance. ... Speaking of fees, Delta has scrapped its $100 standby fee and replaced it with a $25 "confirmation" charge for flyers who standby for a flight within three hours of the original itinerary. The fee does not apply to SkyMiles Gold and Platinum members. The charge goes into effect on March 1, which gives Delta plenty of time to back away from the fee when no other carriers match it.

SECURITY WATCH: The TSA Aces Another 'Impossible' Deadline
The Transportation Security Administration met the Congressionally mandated December 31 deadline for screening all checked bags without serious incident. The supposedly impossible deadline caused few delays and even fewer glitches. The agency has been using a combination of electronic-detection equipment, passenger-baggage matching and hand searches. The TSA claims about 90 percent of all checked bags are being screened electronically. ... Four of the five concourses at Seattle-Tacoma Airport were evacuated on January 5 after a TSA screener fell asleep at his post. He was fired the next day. ... Four more airports are now employing the TSA's new regimen of consolidating security screening at the initial security checkpoints. That means passengers cannot get to the gate without a boarding pass. The airports are Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Albuquerque and Seattle. Midway Airport in Chicago switches to the new system on Thursday (January 9) and San Antonio switches on Friday (January 10). That means more than 50 airports use the system and have largely eliminated random screening at the gate.

THE PARTING SHOT: Oh, to Be in England When Fares Are Cheap
It's January and you know what that means: outrageously low fares to London. British Airways begins the annual fare fandango with its "London for Free" promotion. Roundtrip fares to London are as low as $218 roundtrip (from New York/Kennedy and Newark) and include two free nights in a London hotel. Sample fares from other BA gateways: $238 (Boston), $308 (Chicago) and $368 (Los Angeles). Prices are valid for midweek travel and must be purchased by January 16, but apply to flights through April 14. For more details and restrictions, surf to BA's London for Free Web Page.

This column originally appeared at

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