The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 29 TO JUNE 5, 2003


This week: Airline schedule juggling continues to create havoc with frequent flyers; the dollar's drop against the Euro means a 33 percent penalty for Europe travelers; airline corporate-governance outrages continue; a legendary New England resort reopens as a Marriott; Northwest increases check-in and boarding times; East Coast air shuttles resume hourly service; the Oneworld Alliance may be unraveling; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Don't Be a Victim of the Schedule Shuffle
Airline schedules continue to be in flux as carriers add, restore and drop flights with no notice and the changes are causing havoc with travelers' itineraries. Despite their claims to the contrary, airlines are not contacting flyers with cancellation information or informing them of their reaccommodation on alter-nate or connecting flights. In fact, a new wrinkle has developed in recent days as some U.S. carriers have restored some international flights. Travelers originally booked on those flights, then shifted to others when they were cancelled at the beginning of the Iraq War, are being told they can't go back to their original flights without paying a change fee and any current difference in fare. What are your options? First, call your airline to check your original flights. If you've been rebooked by the airline, double-check to see if you original flight has been restored to the schedule. If it has, demand to be returned to your original flight without penalty. Should the airline balk, threaten to file a com-plaint with the Transportation Department and your credit-card company. That usually results in a no-fee rebooking on your original flight.

AIRPORT REPORT: TSA Is Halfway Home on Consolidated Security Checks
The Transportation Security Administration says 259 airports have now been converted to the "Selectee Checkpoint" system. It requires travelers to have a boarding pass before approaching the first security checkpoint, but it also eliminates annoying secondary, at-the-gate random searches. The TSA says all of the nation's 435 airports should be converted to consolidated security checks by the end of the year. ... Oakland Airport, which has been booming thanks to flights by Southwest and JetBlue, is charging travelers for its recent success. Effective Sunday (June 1), the airport is raising the price of parking for the second time in 11 months. The new rate in the daily and hourly lots is $2 for 30 minutes; the "overflow" lot, now renamed "economy," is $17 a day. Valet parking now costs $12 for two hours or $35 a day. ... Effective Tuesday (June 3) American Airlines and its American Eagle commuter affiliate are consolidating all flights in Terminal 4 at Los Angeles International Airport.

CYBERTRAVELER: Tales from the Bizarro World
I could use billions of electrons trying to make sense of American Airlines' decision to dismantle its More Room Throughout Coach program or explain the plan of Midwest Airlines (fka Midwest Express) to abandon its 2x2 seating on many routes. But one of the advantages of the Internet is that every frequent flyer gets to read the dissembling, nonsensical, tortured verbiage that the carriers put out to justify the knee-jerk misjudgments they make about the marketplace. So check out the American and Midwest announcements for yourself. And remember: Never, ever hire any of these guys to do marketing for your company.

DOLLAR WATCH: Oh, Woe is Our Once-Almighty Dollar
The unprecedented rise of the Euro against the U.S. dollar reached record proportions this week when the dollar briefly climbed to almost US$1.19 on wholesale currency markets. And even though the Euro has dropped back a bit, retail currency-exchange services are quoting travelers a rate of $1.20 for one Euro, a startling 33 percent increase over the 90-cent rate in effect at this time last year. What's it all mean for travelers? An effective currency surcharge of 33 percent compared to last year. A 20 Euro cab ride in Frankfurt, which cost $18 last year, now costs $24. A 50 Euro lunch in Rome or Milan, which cost $45 last year, now runs $60. And the "cheap" 150 Euro hotel room in Paris, which cost $135 last year, now costs $180.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Corporate Governance, Airline-Industry Oxymoron
If you thought the recent publicity surrounding the outrageous sums that top airline executives paid themselves somehow cowed the mobility moguls into re-examining their fiduciary responsibility, forget it. Up in Canada, for example, bankrupt Air Canada this week beat job cuts and salary concessions from its line employees. But the top bosses? Not only haven't they taken cuts, they won't even release information about their compensation. They say they don't have to because Air Canada is bankrupt and thus isn't required to release a proxy detailing executive salaries. Meanwhile, bankrupt United Airlines said this week that it racked up $297 million in operating losses in April, or the equivalent of $10 million a day. United's solution? Another $3 million in consulting fees for McKinsey, the consulting firm assisting the $11 million man, United chief executive Glenn Tilton. Out in Hawaii, a bankruptcy-court judge took the rare step of appointing a trustee to run Hawaiian Airlines. The trustee is expected to fire the carrier's top executives, who creditors accuse of funneling most of the airlines' 2001 bailout funds into their own pockets. Finally, there's Continental. At the annual meeting earlier this month, chief executive Gordon Bethune said he hoped to avoid employee pay cuts so long as rank-and-filers agreed to long-term deals that keep their salaries at current levels. The problem with that? Bethune gave himself an 80 percent raise in compensation last year and the airline recently rewrote its executive bonus program to virtually guarantee huge bonuses for top management this year.

IN THE LOBBY: A New England Legend Returns as a Marriott
One of New England's most historic hotels, Wentworth by the Sea, has reopened as a Marriott franchise. Closed 20 years ago, the Victorian era resort in New Castle, on New Hampshire's postage-stamp Atlantic coastline, first opened in 1874. It was the site of the signing of the 1905 Russo-Japanese Peace Treaty--Teddy Roosevelt brokered the deal and it won him the Nobel Peace Prize--and a seaside getaway for generations of well-to-do New Englanders. After a top-to-bottom makeover, the property now has 161 guestrooms and the Wentworth's unique bi- and tri-level suites; high-speed Internet access; an 8,500-square-foot spa; 10,000 square feet of meeting space; and three restaurants and bars. Additional suites are due to open next month. Introductory midweek rates are as low as $139 a night. ... The first Ritz-Carlton in South America is scheduled to open next week in Santiago, Chile. The 205-room property in Santiago's El Golf district is offering introductory rates of US$170 a night until August 30. ... Hilton Hotels has created an in-room fitness program at more than 90 hotels in North America. Guests can have treadmills delivered to their rooms for a charge of $15 a day. Travelers can also reserve a treadmill-equipped room by using booking code "TZ" at the site.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Effective June 17, Northwest Airlines will require passengers for domestic flights to check in 30 minutes before departure and to be on the plane 15 minutes before departure. It's even worse for flyers from Las Vegas, Denver and Atlanta. They have to check in 45 minutes before departure. ... Lufthansa says it will equip its long-haul fleet of Boeing 747s and Airbus A300 and A340s with Boeing's satellite-based Internet access service. In-flight access, first tested by Lufthansa and British Airways this winter, will cost $25-$35 a flight. ... United Airlines has raised fares from Denver by 8 to 12 percent. Just another reason to fly Frontier, as Chris Barnett suggests in his column this week. ... Delta Air Lines and US Airways are planning to resume hourly service next week on their shuttle flights between New York/LaGuardia, Boston/Logan and Washington/National. ... Speaking of US Airways, the carrier will restore its flights from Pittsburgh to Frankfurt and London/Gatwick on Sunday (June 1).

THE PARTING SHOT: Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of Oneworld?
Chief executives of the Oneworld carriers meet in Washington next week and some observers think the confab could be the beginning of the end of the alliance fronted by American Airlines and British Airways. "We ain't dead, but we are on life support," an executive of one of Oneworld's smaller members told me this week. "This is an alliance without purpose or a viable future," another told me. Why is Oneworld unraveling while competing alliances such as SkyTeam and even bankruptcy-plagued are Star doing well? American and BA have never gotten their broad antitrust immunity and both carriers, as well as Asian partner Cathay Pacific, are obsessed with their internal problems. "This is [new American CEO Gerard] Arpey's first meeting, so don't expect any melodramatic announcement," another Oneworld carrier executive cautions. "But unless we redefine what we do and what we offer, we'll eventually outlive our usefulness."

This column originally appeared at

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