The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 17 TO JUNE 24, 2004


This week: United's federal loan request is rejected again; the Transportation Security Administration grudgingly announces a test of a trusted-traveler program; Sea-Tac gets a new concourse and Dulles gets a new airline; more summer frequent-travel promotions; more hotel reflaggings; Air India launches a Hollywood-to-Bollywood route; swank Miami hotels offer huge summer discounts; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: United Just Won't Take No for an Answer
For the second time in 18 months, bankrupt United Airlines has been told that the federal government will not guarantee a gigantic loan. The Air Transportation Stabilization Board (ATSB) rejected United's $1.6 billion request on Thursday, partially because the board found the airline's application wanting and partially because the bureaucrats think United should now be borrowing money in the private markets. United's reaction to this second resounding rebuff was typically bizarre. The airline claims the board--which has been examining United documents and operations for more than two years--made a "premature" decision. And United said it would ask the board to look at its request for a third time. "I don't think United is getting the message," a Congressional aide told me late Thursday after the rejection was announced.

AIRPORT REPORT: A Grudging Test of a Trusted Traveler Program
The Transportation Security Administration is grudgingly planning to launch a test of a "trusted traveler" program next month. The system will first be tested at Minneapolis/St.Paul with Northwest, then with United in Los Angeles, Continental in Houston and with American Airlines in Boston and Washington. The 90-day program will be tested with selected frequent flyers of the respective airlines. As is typical of the TSA, the effort appears slapdash and extremely short on details. But the bottom line seems that the traveler-volunteers will be required to surrender extensive personal information and receive very few advantages when it comes to bypassing security checkpoints. ... Seattle-Tacoma opened the 14-gate, 2,100-foot-long Concourse A on Tuesday. The $587 million project was more than $200 million over budget. The concourse will be used by Delta, American, Frontier and several other carriers. Delta has opened a new Crown Room Club near gates 11 and 12. ... Spokane Airport now has Wi-Fi capability throughout the entire facility. ... Berlin says it will permanently close historic Tempelhof Airport on October 31. A legal challenge is expected.

CYBERTRAVELER: Movies Imitate Life in The Terminal
The latest Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg collaboration, The Terminal, opens nationwide on Friday (June 18) and the early buzz has been good. And the movie's Web site is a hoot, especially since it cleverly relies on the sounds and images of a flipping arrivals board. The movie's terminal--built on a California sound stage--looks real enough, if vaguely like Terminal 4 at New York's Kennedy Airport (Hanks' character, an Eastern European, is putatively stranded at JFK.) But remember: The story is at least loosely based on the real story of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, a stranded Iranian who is still living at Paris' Charles DeGaulle airport. In fact, The Terminal isn't even the first movie to use Nasseri's sad tale as a movie story line. A 1993 French film called Tombes du Ciel (Fallen from the Sky) offered a somewhat more literal retelling of Nasseri's decades-long exile at DeGaulle.

IN THE LOBBY: Another Adam's Mark Hotel Disappears
The amazing, shrinking hotel chain, Adam's Mark, is losing another one. The 332-room Indianapolis branch is undergoing a $6.5 million refurbishment and will become the Hilton Indianapolis in mid-August. ... Another reflagging: The troubled Metropolitan Hotel on New York's Lexington Avenue will become the 755-room Doubletree Metropolitan in the fall after a $35 million renovation. The property was once a Loews hotel and once known as The Summit. ... Speaking of New York, the storied but shabby Algonquin is closing on June 27 for a renovation. It is scheduled to reopen in August. ... Finally, the 126-room Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield, Ireland, will begin flying the Marriott flag on July 19.

MILES & POINTS: Summer Promotions Good and Bad
Here's one of the good ones: Hyatt Gold Passport has revived its popular Faster Free Night promotion. Stay twice at a Hyatt through September 30 and pay with a MasterCard and you'll earn a free night redeemable at any of the 210 Hyatts worldwide. The free nights can be redeemed until November 30. ... Here's one of the bad ones: a 2,500-mile Delta SkyMiles bonus for buying four Michelin tires. You have to make your purchase before November 15 and then you have to complete and mail in a form to claim the bonus. ... The brutal competition on transcontinental routes has led United Mileage Plus to offer a free companion ticket when you fly twice between Los Angeles and Boston, New York or Washington. The promotion is slightly better than the phony winter transcon deal, but redeeming the freebie will still be nearly impossible. There are almost two pages of rules and restrictions governing the award. ... Watch for Hilton HHonors to announce a change in its popular "Miles & Points" double-dip policy next week.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
Air India has launched three weekly flights between Los Angeles and Mumbai (Bombay). The Boeing 747-400 service--dubbed the Hollywood-to-Bollywood route--makes an intermediate stop in Europe. ... Delta will cut more than 25 percent of the September schedule of Song, its money-losing low-fare competitor to JetBlue. Delta insists the 41-flight cut is temporary. ... Continental, KLM and Northwest will join the SkyTeam Alliance on September 13. ... United Airlines has received approval to launch San Francisco-Hong Kong-Ho Chi Minh City service on October 15. ... Independence Air began low-fare flying from its Washington/Dulles hub this week. The carrier flies a fleet of regional jets to six cities. Independence will add four more cities next week and 13 more destinations in July.

THE PARTING SHOT: Everything's Up-to-Date (and Really Cheap) in Miami
After months of delays, the lavish Conrad Miami opens on July 1 with a stunning rate for a luxury property: $100 a night until September 12. The 203-room property, part of the Espirito Santo Plaza development on Brickell Avenue, isn't the only lush hotel offering big deals in Miami this summer, however. Not far away on Brickell Avenue, the nine-month-old Four Seasons Miami is giving away free Friday or Sunday stays when travelers book a Saturday night. The two-night rate at the 221-room property? Just $275 until September 30.

This column originally appeared at

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