The Tactical Traveler



This week: Delta raises mileage requirements for many SkyMiles awards; job actions will disrupt service on several international airlines; screener turnover rates tumble; America West's chief executive says taxpayers could profit from the airline's loan guarantee; brain-dead dinosaur airlines respond to Congressional criticism; the SkyHigh Airlines site is hilarious--and awfully close to reality; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Delta Raises Award Levels
You'll forgive me for saying so, but I've been warning you for months that unhappy changes were coming to Big Six frequent-flyer programs. Well, here they come. Effective March 16, Delta Air Lines is raising the mileage requirements for many popular SkyMiles Awards. Restricted coach awards to Hawaii jump by 5,000 miles while first-class awards jump 15,000 miles. Restricted first-class awards on flights within the continental United States also increase by 5,000 miles. Internationally, mileage requirements increase by as much as 30,000 miles per award. Expect other carriers to follow suit as it suits their purposes.

CYBERTRAVELER: Seen on the Web
If you're one of those folks who are obsessed with getting "bump" tickets for voluntarily accepting denied boarding, you'll just love Bumptracker. ... I've held off mentioning the totally hilarious and frighteningly on-target SkyHigh Airlines site until I was sure it was a parody and not just a really bad airline I'd missed. My favorite part: Click on the Suggestions link and you're brought to a comment form. No matter what you enter, the site rewrites it into a lame compliment for the airline before you can click on the "submit" button.

Aer Lingus and Alitalia are facing job actions in the next few days. If you're scheduled to fly with those carriers or their code-share partners, check before you leave for the airport. ... American Airlines sharply reduces the size of its St. Louis hub next week and it is shifting some of its excess planes and capacity to international routes. Starting November 1, American will launch three-times-weekly nonstops between its hub in Dallas/Fort Worth and Buenos Aires. It is also launching daily nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale to both Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. ... Some U.S. travelers use British Airways to fly to South Africa. If you're one of them, take note: BA is moving its London/Heathrow-Johannesburg flights from Heathrow's Terminal 4 to Terminal 1. That means a terminal change for connecting U.S. flyers.

ANNALS OF THE BAILOUT: Good News and Bad, Two Years Later
We're finally getting some useful information on the unprecedented $15 billion airline-bailout package that Congress hastily passed in the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued this week says that U.S. major carriers recovered about 73 percent of their claimed $5.6 billion in losses. Eight of the 14 major airlines received compensation for 100 percent of their losses. The other six were only partially compensated because their claims exceeded the amounts determined by the market-share formula used by the government. As a result, the GAO says, taxpayers will provide slightly less than the $5 billion in outright grants envisioned by the Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act. ... The act also created $10 billion
in loan guarantees and America West, the first carrier to receive a guarantee, says taxpayers could reap a big windfall from the investment. In exchange for the $500 million in loan guarantees, the government received 18.5 million stock warrants in America West at $3 each, explains America West chief executive Douglas Parker. "With the stock today nearing $13, that's $185 million of potential gain for the taxpayers on this loan," he says.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says it will drop its $5 in-flight entertainment charge for coach passengers beginning November 1. ... The Doubletree Hotel at San Antonio airport has been rebranded as the Radisson San Antonio Airport. The property remains open during a $3 million renovation program. ... American Airlines and ATA Airlines now offer interline E-tickets. ... Lufthansa begins code-sharing with US Airways on Sunday. The German carrier will also join the US Airways Dividend Miles frequent-flyer program. ... The Transportation Security Administration is coming under increased pressure for that embarrassing box cutter incident, but it can point to some good news. Before September 11, private security firms handling airport checkpoints had a 125 percent turnover rate in personnel. With the TSA running screening with a staff it has hired in the last 22 months, the turnover rate has dropped to about 14 percent.

THE PARTING SHOT: The Brain-Dead Dinosaur Speaks
I don't know what the textbook definition of "brain-dead dinosaur" is, but this may be it. More than three weeks ago, airline apologist John Mica, the Florida Republican who is chair of the House aviation subcommittee, shocked the world by shifting gears. Major carriers are "brain dead," he said in a speech to airline interests in Washington. "You can only feed dinosaurs for so guys haven't found that out yet." Yet it took until Tuesday for the brain-dead dinosaurs to craft a response. "The airline business collectively is a dynamic business operating under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable," James May, chief executive of the Air Transport Association, the major-airline trade group, told the Financial Times.

This column originally appeared at

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