The Tactical Traveler



This week: Congress slams CAPPS II's privacy flaws; another city falls off the route map; ATA adds business class; Southwest begins online check-in nationwide; Marriott snags major hotels in London and Dublin; the EC approves the Air France-KLM merger; WestJet is heading south of the Canadian border; a Starwood-British Airways double-miles promotion; and much more.

The bureaucrats running the Transportation Security Administration probably aren't listening, but Congress is now voicing serious doubts about CAPPS II, the out-of-control passenger-screening program that TSA wants to launch this summer. A report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is due to be published today and it is savage in its assessment of the program. It says CAPPS II, which will gather hordes of non-travel data about all passengers before they are permitted to fly, has failed to address seven of eight privacy concerns previously raised by Congress. "These issues, if not resolved, pose major risks to the successful development, implementation and operation of CAPPS II," the study concludes. The invasive nature of CAPPS II and the lack of privacy safeguards have even led a major backer of passenger screening, House Transportation aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica (R-FL), to conclude that he'll have to hold hearings on the state of program. "I can't tell you how disappointed I am" by the GAO's findings, Mica told Aviation Daily this week.

AIRPORT REPORT: Another City Falls Off the Route Map
Take note: Shuttle America, which flies as US Airways Express, drops all flights at Bedford, Massachusetts, on May 31. That will end commercial service at the airport. The Big Six airlines and their surrogates have dropped more than two dozen cities off their route maps since 9/11. ... Houston/Hobby, the other airport in Continental's hometown, is getting more attention. Beginning September 8, Continental says it will launch nonstops from Hobby to two of its other hubs, Cleveland and Newark. ... Thrifty Car Rental has opened a location at Munich airport. ... It'll get a bit easier to use Wi-Fi at three major airports--Denver, San Francisco and Philadelphia--now that AT&T and T-Mobile have signed an airport roaming agreement. Cross-brand roaming is expected to be in place by the middle of the year.

It didn't take too long for Southwest Airlines to decide that its test of online check-in was working just fine. Just weeks after it began testing, the 800-pound gorilla of discounters, which doesn't offer assigned seats, has rolled out online check-in nationwide. Most Southwest customers with electronic tickets are now able to print out boarding passes--and a coveted Group A boarding position--beginning at midnight on their day of travel. ... ATA Airlines says it will add a business class on all its planes by the fourth quarter of the year. The cabin will be configured 2x2 with leather seats offering about 37 inches of seat pitch. Better yet: Business-class prices will be capped at $399 one-way on all domestic routes. Day-of-departure upgrades from most fares will also be available.

IN THE LOBBY: The Flags Keep on Switching
Two important former Le Meridien hotels in Europe will soon be flying the Marriott flag. The Grosvenor House in London will become a JW Marriott and Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel will become a Renaissance property. Although Marriott is already managing both hotels, the name changes become official after renovations. ... Hilton International is now managing the Kalastajatorppa Hotel in Helsinki. The 238-room seaside property is located about three miles from Helsinki's city center. ... The four-year-old Pillars Hotel in Buffalo, New York, has been reflagged as a Doubletree Club. ... Microtel, the budget chain, says it will now offer all guests free local calls, free long-distance calls in the United States and free wireless high-speed Internet access. ... Fairmont says members of its President's Club loyalty program will receive free use of an HP iPAQ pocket computer during their stays.

Although it imposed some minor conditions, the European Community this week approved the proposed merger of Air France and KLM. The U.S. Justice Department also says it will not act to stop the combination, which will create a holding that will own both carriers. What's it all mean for business travelers? Bad news, of course, because of the consolidation of flying that will result. KLM is already aligned with Northwest Airlines and both carriers now say they will join SkyTeam, the alliance fronted by Air France and Delta Air Lines. Moreover, Continental Airlines, which has a code-share arrangement with Northwest, is now also expected to join SkyTeam. And Alitalia is hoping the new Air France-KLM holding company will buy up the ailing Italian carrier. Which means that three U.S. and three European carriers will now be in an alliance that will all but ensure decreased competition across the Atlantic. When six transatlantic airlines align, you know that can only mean less choice, fewer flights, higher fares and poorer service. ... Speaking of anticompetitive behavior, the Israeli government has ordered Lufthansa to sharply reduce the number of flights and seats it offers to Israel. The move is aimed at protecting the Israeli flag carrier, El Al. ... WestJet, the fast-growing Canadian discount carrier, says it will begin flying to the United States later this year. Flights to Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will start in October. The carrier will add seasonal routes to Phoenix and Palm Springs, California, later in the year.

MILES & POINTS: Stinkeroo Promotions and Double-Points Offers
Remember last year's awful frequent-flyer promotion where you had to buy three full-fare roundtrips and your reward was one restricted, Saturday-stay ticket? Despite being a stinkeroo--airline executives have told me it was the worst-performing frequent-flyer gimmick in years--it's nevertheless being reinstated. United Mileage Plus, which launched last year's failure, was the first to bring it back this year. It's subsequently been matched by Continental and US Airways. You have to register and do all the full-fare flying by June 15. ... Amtrak is offering a 2-for-1 promotion--but a good one--via Guest Rewards. Take two roundtrips on the Acela Express or Metroliner between specified city-pairs before April 15 and you'll earn a freebie ticket. Registration is required. ... And here's a hot one: Convert between 20,000 and 100,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points and you'll receive double the normal ration of British Airways Executive Club miles. The promotion lasts through March 31. ... Red Roof Inns Redicard Preferred Members can now earn Delta SkyMiles. A special program offers 2,000 miles--double the normal number--for every 5,000 points earned between March 15 and June 30.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines says it will launch twice-daily service between its Seattle hub and Chicago/O'Hare beginning April 26. ... America West says it will resume service between its Phoenix hub and Anchorage on June 1. ...United Airlines launched its low-fare Ted service at its Denver hub today. Almost no one noticed. The airline says it will add Ted flights at its Washington/Dulles hub beginning April 7. Meanwhile, Song, the faltering Delta Air Lines low-fare service, will end service at Dulles.

This column originally appeared at

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