The Tactical Traveler



This week: Air Canada rationalizes its fares; US Airways talks about another transformation; gearing up to fight the TSA's intrusive Secure Flight program; Big Six employees lose jobs, pay and pensions, but the bosses don't share the pain; mid-market hotels upgrade their beds and baths; Amtrak says it will enforce its luggage rules; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Another Brick Falls From the Fare Wall
The inevitable demise of the Byzantine, big-airline fare structure--or the demise of the big airlines themselves--moved forward this week when Air Canada revamped its pricing. Out are Saturday stays and roundtrip purchases. In are just five one-way fares--four in coach and one in business--in all Canadian and transborder U.S. markets. A quick check on a representative route--Toronto to Calgary--for a flight yesterday yielded one-way, walk-up fares of C$167, C$466, C$574 and C$1,213 in coach and $1,263 in Air Canada's Executive class. The news isn't all good, though. The lowest fare in each market, called Tango, does not offer free advance-seat assignments, only accrues 50 percent Aeroplan mileage credit and does not permit same-day changes or standby. And the next lowest fare, called Fun, only offers full mileage credit on transborder flights.

AIRPORT REPORT: The US Airways Soap Opera Rolls On
US Airways convinced its bankruptcy-court judge to impose temporary, 21 percent pay cuts on its unionized workers last Friday. The extra-contract reductions cannot be disputed by employees and remain in place until February 15. On Monday, the airline announced a series of changes at its airport hubs, all of which management claims will allow it to increase service with existing assets. Philadelphia will switch to a rolling-hub system of flights arriving and departing throughout the day rather than in banks. Service will increase to 495 daily flights, including new regional-jet (RJ) service to Washington/Dulles and Wilmington, North Carolina. At its Charlotte hub, US Airways says it will add 100 daily flights and two new banks of arriving and departing flights. At Washington/National, the airline will add flights to six new cities, including Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston Intercontinental. All these changes, as well as the airline's previously announced new Latin American and Caribbean gateway in Fort Lauderdale, are effective with the February, 2005, schedule. That's assuming US Airways survives that long, of course.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Battle Is Joined Again Against the TSA
Bill Scannell almost single-handedly organized the opposition to the Transportation Security Administration's heinous CAPPS II passenger-screening system. After he beat the intrusive, offensive program earlier this year, Scannell really did think he could rest. But he underestimated the political hacks at the TSA who seem intent on casting every American as a potential terrorist whose privacy must be invaded whenever and wherever we fly. They have a new plan, Secure Flight, which is almost as intrusive as CAPPS II. To fight this latest government attempt to brand us all as terrorists until proven otherwise, Scannell has launched a new Web site, Unsecure Flight. You not only should visit it to get the information you need, but you should also use the site as the gateway to register your official objection to Secure Flight by the October 25 government deadline for comments.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: 'Shared Sacrifice' Doesn't Include the Bosses
If you ever doubted that the men who run the Big Six carriers are greedy pigs you need only look at this week's astonishing developments at United and Northwest airlines. Now 22 months in bankruptcy without a reorganization plan, United management told the court that it will probably need to cut thousands more jobs and get more wage-and-benefit concessions from employees. That's in addition to its plan to cancel its employee pension plans and the billions already sacrificed by employees. But guess's who's exempt from all this cost-cutting and pension dumping? United chief executive Glenn Tilton. He has a $4.5 million retirement trust with special protection from creditors. The deal was negotiated when he became CEO in 2002. Meanwhile, over at Northwest, negotiators for the airline's pilot union accepted $265 million in givebacks and concessions. The two-year deal is contingent on $35 million in annual management wage cuts. But that deal isn't all that it seems. Northwest's three top executives--chief executive Doug Steenland and executive vice presidents Phil Haan and Tim Griffin--stand to get big raises because they have supposedly taken on new duties since the September 30 departure of former CEO Richard Anderson. The Northwest trio's pay cuts will only become effective after their big, and as yet unspecified, raises go into effect.

IN THE LOBBY: The Bed-and-Bath Battle in the Mid-Market
The competition in the middle of the hotel market--the so-called limited- or focused-service properties--is heating up on two fronts. Holiday Inn Express is upgrading its bathrooms over the next four months with a raft of small, but useful, improvements. By February 1, all 120,000 bathrooms in the system will be fitted with wide, multifunction Kohler showerheads; new towels that are 100 percent cotton and 20 percent larger than the chain's existing product; new bath rugs and shower curtains; curved shower rods that add about 25 percent of space to the shower area; and new bath amenities. Meanwhile, Four Points by Sheraton is upgrading its beds. The so-called Four Comfort Bed includes a Sealy Plush-Top mattress; four pillows (two are feather/down and two are square "lounging" types); new, cotton-blend sheets; and a cushioned duvet. The new beds at the approximately 100 Four Points properties in North America will be installed by July. The bed-and-bath initiatives at these two chains come after significant upgrade packages at competitive brands such as Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Thirteen travelers died late Tuesday night when a Corporate Airlines commuter flight from St. Louis crashed on approach at Kirsville, Missouri. There were two survivors on the Jetstream 32 flight operating as AmericanConnection, which flies commuter service out of St. Louis for American Airlines. ... Amtrak says it will drop ticket-change fees for travelers who buy a new ticket of equal or great value. It also says it will begin enforcing its luggage policy (two carry-ons and three checked bags) on November 1. ...Marriott Rewards members can now receive Asiana Club miles. Guests receive three miles per dollar spent at Marriott, JW Marriott and Renaissance Hotels. All other Marriott brands award one mile per dollar spent. ... American Airlines has raised surcharges on its international fares. The add-on fees now range from $15 to $25 each way.

This column originally appeared at

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