The Tactical Traveler


The Department of Transportation decided to inject more competition in the fast-growing and lucrative China market this week and handed new routes to Continental and American airlines. Continental gets the right to fly nonstop between its Newark hub and the Chinese capital of Beijing. And American will be permitted to fly nonstop from its Chicago/O'Hare hub to Shanghai, a route that United Airlines already flies. Continental hasn't announced a launch date, but service is likely to begin before the end of June. American said it would launch its Shanghai flights next April. And in what seemed like a fit of pique--or a desperate ploy for attention--one of the China incumbents, United Airlines, announced its own China plans after the DOT announcement. On April 29, United says it will launch daily flights between Nagoya, Japan, and Taipei, Taiwan. It also announced that it will add three weekly flights on its O'Hare-Hong Kong route in May and fly larger planes with more seats on its O'Hare-Beijing route during the summer.

JetBlue Airways is adding transcontinental routes so fast that it's hard to keep track. Earlier this week, it announced a new daily roundtrip route between its New York/Kennedy hub and Portland, Oregon. The service starts May 17. It's also adding a second JFK-Seattle daily flight on June 17. And today (February 24), it announced nonstop flights between JFK and Burbank, its third Southern California airport. Three daily flights begin on May 24 and a fourth daily roundtrip will be added on July 15. … Jetsgo, a fast-growing low-fare Canadian airline, is also growing rapidly. It is adding three new nonstop routes from Halifax: twice-daily service to St. Johns beginning April 5; daily flights to Ottawa on April 14; and a daily flight to Montreal on May 19. Out west, it launches service from Regina on April 14. There will be two daily nonstops to Winnipeg and two daily nonstops to Calgary. On the same day, Jetsgo will increase its Vancouver-Calgary frequency to five daily nonstops.

It's an example of the weirdness of the times that US Airways, desperate for financing to meet a June 30 deadline to exit its second bankruptcy proceeding, has sold a huge chunk of itself to a regional carrier. In a peculiar deal whose full terms have yet to be disclosed--or even fully understood--the investment arm of Air Wisconsin will receive as much as 26 percent of US Airways in exchange for a cash infusion of $125 million. The cash is technically debtor-in-possession funding, but will be turned into an equity stake when and if US Airways exits Chapter 11. Among the terms of the deal: Air Wisconsin is second in line only to the U.S. government, which guaranteed $900 million in loans, when it comes to secured claims on US Air's remaining tangible assets. That would seem to spell the end of the involvement of US Airways chairman David Bronner, the head of the Retirement System of Alabama, who gambled about $250 million of state-employee funds to buy into US Air. Moreover, Air Wisconsin apparently has the right to become US Airways' primary commuter carrier whenever the regional airline loses or severs its ties with United Airlines. Stay tuned, folks, because more of this deal should be explained in court hearings next week. … Speaking of weirdness, United Airlines again pushed back the target for its own emergence from bankruptcy. Now chief executive and serial prognosticator Glenn Tilton says United will spend almost all of 2005 in Chapter 11. And even though United has already been in bankruptcy for 27 months and has yet to file a plan of reorganization, Tilton also says that he expects United to buy assets of other carriers after it exits Chapter 11. I'm checking with my United sources to determine exactly what Tilton is smoking and drinking in the corporate dining room these days.

Life on the road is never a picnic, but this past week may go down as one of the most annoying, frustrating and awful in recent memory. Besides the President's Weekend snowstorms that snarled traffic in the Midwest and East and the continuing rains in Southern California, here's some of what else went wrong. … Another in what has become routine luggage snafus at US Airways' Philadelphia hub left thousands of travelers waiting hours for bags last weekend. … Dozens of United Airlines flights were delayed at United's Denver and Chicago/O'Hare hubs over the weekend when the carrier's reservations computers failed. … A four-day strike by ground staff at Paris/Orly Airport caused the cancellation of hundreds of Air France intra-Europe flights. … Nearly 200 Alitalia flights were cancelled--many of them headed to the United States--in the ongoing dispute between the carrier and its labor unions. … A suspected gas leak at Virgin Blue's terminal in Melbourne disrupted the travel plans of more than 20,000 Australians. The two-day snafu this week led to the terminal's closure--dozens of travelers there were treated for nausea and vomiting--and there were cancellations throughout the Virgin Blue system. … And just for extra annoyance, a huge snowstorm blanketed most of Western Europe yesterday (February 23). The snow, which covered cities and airports as far north as Scotland and as far south as Madrid and the Cote d'Azur, was the first blast in what is expected to be a week-long cold snap.

If you haven't already gotten used to showing up at a favorite hotel only to learn that it's changed brand allegiances, the latest round of pass the lodging flag won't make your life any easier. This week's notable shifts: The 423-room Hyatt Regency in Oak Brook, Illinois, has become a Doubletree. The Doubletree flag now flies over the 250-room hotel in New York's Westchester County that for years was known as the Tarrytown Hilton. The same company now manages both properties and is promising major renovations at both. And the iconic Fontainebleu hotel in Miami is shedding its affiliation with Hilton and will be run as an independent property after what the new owners claim will be a $150 million makeover.

Delta Air Lines was shut out in its bid to fly between its Atlanta hub and China (see Counter Intelligence above), but the Transportation Department awarded the airline a consolation prize. Beginning June 1, Delta will be permitted to fly daily between Atlanta and Moscow. Delta already flies to Moscow from its New York/Kennedy international hub. Delta says it will use two-class, 204-seat Boeing B767-300s from Atlanta … Meanwhile, United Airlines says it will launch daily flights from Chicago/O'Hare to Munich, a hub for Lufthansa, its Star Alliance partner. Service starts June 7 with 193-seat, three-class Boeing 767-300s. United has been code-sharing on Lufthansa's O'Hare-Munich flights. … Speaking of Lufthansa, the German carrier will launch three weekly flights from its Frankfurt hub to Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Service begins April 7 and the flights will continue to the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

Hilton HHonors now awards elite status based on your stays and spending over a rolling 12-month period rather than by calendar year. … Amtrak Guest Rewards is upping the ante in Amtrak's war with the Delta and US Airways shuttles along the East Coast. Until May 31, two roundtrips on the Acela or Metroliner will earn you a voucher good for a free roundtrip between June 15 and December 15. You'll also earn double Guest Rewards points whenever you pay with a MasterCard. You must register for both promotions. … Speaking of Amtrak, it has dumped United Airlines as a Guest Rewards partner. That shuts a backdoor some frequent travelers used to convert United Mileage Plus miles into Continental OnePass miles. … Outrigger Hotels, a large chain of hotels in Hawaii and the South Pacific, has joined Cendant's Trip Rewards program.

Northwest Airlines will move its operations at Paris/CDG to Terminal 2E. Northwest customers will check in at the KLM/Air France counters and business-class customers will have access to the Air France lounge there. … Speaking of Air France, the code-share between the French carrier and Continental Airlines is now operational. … Air New Zealand is dumping first-class cabins on its transpacific routes. Beginning in August, flights will offer a Business Premier class with lie-flat seat-beds priced at business-class rates and a Pacific Premium Economy, which will offer seats with 39 inches of legroom. Pacific Premium will be priced around 25 percent more than standard coach, the airline says.

Despite predictions of gloom and doom by airline executives who constantly claim that a simplified fare structure can't work, airline revenue per mile flown rose in January, the first month that Delta offered, and other carriers largely matched, the SimpliFares program. The 1.6 percent revenue bump compared to January, 2004, is the first year-over-year rise in airline unit revenue since last July. Most analysts also expect revenue per mile flown to rise in February and March, too.

This column originally appeared at

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