The Tactical Traveler

FOR SEPTEMBER 16 TO 30, 2004


This week: Hotels in three big cities face a strike; Independence Air keeps expanding, but faces low passenger loads and Big Six retaliation; BA trims some London flights; Air Canada will resume Rome flights; the government won't get a secret court hearing on air-security rules; Delta faces a wave of pilot retirements and may have to ground flights; Continental raises international upgrade prices; fares increase sixfold after Spirit drops Denver-Detroit flights; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Beware of Hotel Strikes in Three Big Cities
Hotel workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and the District of Columbia are now working without contracts and are free to strike at any time. Negotiations have stalled in all three cities and the contentious talks are a part of the escalating skirmish between the major hotel chains and UniteHere, a new national coalition of labor unions. Among the 42 affected hotels in the three cities are properties flying the Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis flags. The hotel workers are looking for less-onerous working conditions and higher hourly wages. They are also seeking a two-year contract, which would mean their agreements would expire at the same time as hotel employees in six other cities and Hawaii. Hotel operators want five-year contracts (the traditional standard) and have offered wage increases of as low as 5 cents an hour for some employees.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: More Service From--and Flak for--Independence
Independence Air, the former United Express carrier at Washington/Dulles, has been expanding rapidly since its June launch, but there are signs that the market isn't responding to the new capacity. The airline filled just 45.5 percent of the space on its 50-seat regional-jet (RJ) fleet in August even though the carrier had been predicting load factors around 60 percent. As a result, Independence has launched another big fare sale. But it apparently isn't ready to put the brakes on its expansion. On October 1, Independence will launch six daily RJ flights from Dulles to Huntsville, Alabama, and eight daily nonstops to Charlotte. October 13 brings RJ flights from Orlando to Knoxville and Columbia, South Carolina. On November 3, the airline puts its first Airbus A319s into service with three daily flights from Dulles to both Orlando and Tampa. And that's not all. November 3 marks the launch of RJ nonstops from Tampa to six cities: Knoxville; Greensboro, North Carolina; Huntsville; and Greenville/Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston, North Carolina. The same day brings RJ flights from Orlando to Greensboro, Huntsville, Greenville/Spartanburg and Charleston. All this activity has not gone unnoticed by Delta. Just hours after Independence announced the Tampa flights on Monday, Delta said it would launch RJs from Tampa to the same cities beginning November 1.

Dreadful service snafus at its London/Heathrow hub last month during Britain's summer bank holiday weekend has led British Airways to cancel about 1,000 flights during the next three months. Included in the temporary cuts are some flights from New York/Kennedy, Newark, Boston, Miami and Los Angeles. Check with BA to confirm that your scheduled flight will actually operate. ... Here's good news for travelers desperate for more service to Italy. Air Canada says it will resume its nonstop flights to Rome from its Toronto hub on April 4. ... The legendary Savoy Hotel in London is being sold again and the new owner says Fairmont Hotels will be brought in to manage the property next year. The Savoy Group, which also manages three other grand dames in London (The Connaught, The Berkeley and Claridges), will change its name after losing the Savoy.

SECURITY WATCH: Air Travel Security Can't Be Secret, Says the Court
A privacy advocate named John Gilmore has been fighting the government over an apparently "secret law" that requires all airline passengers to show photo identification before boarding a flight. The Justice Department responded to Gilmore's lawsuit by claiming that its defense of the rule must be argued in private because the underpinning of the ID requirement was so sensitive that the mere confirmation of its existence would be detrimental to national security. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals knocked down that absurd rational and has told the Justice Department that the case will be argued in public. Gilmore has built a Web Site to explain his side of the story. The Justice Department refuses to comment--at least not in public. ... The Russian media is reporting that some of the terrorists who bombed two domestic Russian flights last month had been detained by police before departure but bribed airline employees to get on the planes.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Management of Delta Air Lines has been trying to beat $1 billion in concessions from its pilots and has threatened bankruptcy if it doesn't get what it wants. The pilots, the only unionized group at the airline, now have a stick of their own. About 2,000 of the airline's 6,900 pilots can retire and take an immediate lump-sum payment of some of their pension benefits. About 300 pilots retired in June. A massive wave of retirements in the coming months would force Delta to ground planes and cancel flights. ... Continental Airlines is raising the price of OnePass upgrades on international flights. Effective January 1, most upgrades from discounted coach rise $50 to $100 and will now be as high as $450 each way.

THE PARTING SHOT: The Incredibly High Cost of No Competition
The next time that someone tells you that the Big Six are doing their best to keep your business and make their prices rational, give them this example. Spirit Airlines dropped its Detroit-Denver route on September 6. When it was competing on the route with Northwest and United, roundtrip walk-up fares were about $300. But now that Spirit is gone, Northwest and United have decided that it's time to go back to their old, rapacious ways. According to the Northwest and United Web sites, a walk-up roundtrip today between Detroit and Denver is now $1,742. That's almost a sixfold increase in just 10 days.

This column originally appeared at

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