The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 9 - JUNE 23, 2005
Northwest Tries to Provoke a Strike
There have been a lot of peculiar events at the Big Six since the 9/11 attacks, but this may be the weirdest: Northwest Airlines management seems intent on provoking a mechanics strike. Why? So they can lay off huge numbers of employees and farm out the work to lower-cost contractors. The mechanics and Northwest began negotiations late last year and the existing contract officially became amendable on May 11. (Airline contracts technically never expire.) Just days later, Northwest petitioned the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse. Such a declaration leads to a federally mandated, 30-day "cooling off" period and then, absent presidential intervention, frees unions to strike or airlines to lock out employees. But requests for impasses are almost never asked for by either party until months, and sometimes years, after a contract has become amendable. Northwest accuses the mechanics of intransigence because they won't agree to the airline's contract proposal: a 25 percent wage cut and the elimination of about half of the union's jobs. To add insult to financial injury, Northwest is already advertising for replacement flight attendants and for contractors to take over the mechanics jobs. For its part, the mechanics union said this week that it never even received the specifics of Northwest's contract proposal until May 31, seven days after the airline asked the NMB to declare an impasse. The federal mediators obviously saw through Northwest's transparent game and today (June 9) refused the airline's request to declare an impasse.

United and Delta Expand Their All-Coach Subsidiaries
The allure of a supposedly low-fare, all-coach division continues to tantalize bankrupt United Airlines and desperate-not-to-be-bankrupt Delta Air Lines. United has announced another expansion of Ted, its lackluster all-coach operation. On September 7, Ted will launch a San Francisco-Ontario, California, route. It will also take over from United on flights to Miami from United's Denver and Washington/Dulles hubs. Ted will also take over two of United's six daily Los Angeles-Phoenix flights. It will also start Chicago/O'Hare-San Juan (October 23); O'Hare-Miami (October 31); Denver and Dulles to Cancun (November 15); and Dulles-San Juan (December 18) flights. Meanwhile, another profitless Big Six subsidiary, Song, will be juggling some routes. On September 6, it launches two daily flights from Boston/Logan to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the same day, it will also launch Los Angeles service from Hartford, Connecticut. To find the planes for some of these new flights, Song will drop Newark-Orlando and New York/Kennedy-Fort Myers service.

The Big Six Transform Themselves Into Commuter Carriers
Newspapers were full of big "think" pieces this week opining about the reduction of in-flight amenities and how the cuts will further sully the images of the full-service Big Six. But, as usual, the mainstream media missed the forest for the trees: The Big Six stopped being full-service airlines many years ago. The story now is how the Big Six are transforming themselves into commuter carriers. Consider: 75 percent of flights carrying the DL code at Delta's Cincinnati hub are now flown by commuter carriers using regional jets. And today (June 9) American Airlines launched 24 new routes from its major hubs. Every single route is served with regional jets. American now claims to fly more than 3,800 daily flight, but more than half (about 2,100) are flown by its commuter carriers with regional jets or turboprops. Things aren't much different at the other Big Six carriers, either. The bottom line: When the obituary of the Big Six is finally written, the cause of death is likely to be the elimination of real jets with first-class cabins. After all, with no first-class cabins, the Big Six are no different than Southwest or JetBlue Airways. And the elite levels of the Big Six frequent-flyer programs lose their appeal because there are no first-class cabins into which loyal business travelers can upgrade. Think about it next time you are flying a Big Six carrier at a higher fare because you think you're getting perks like first-class cabins and upgrades.

The Smear Campaign Against Jet Airways
Anyone who has ever flown Jet Airways knows that the privately owned Indian carrier is one of the world's finest carriers. And after a dozen years of domestic flying, it has begun to expand internationally and hopes to launch a Newark-Brussels-Mumbai route on June 23. But out of the woodwork has crawled a paper airline called Jet Airways of Maryland to smear the Indian carrier with unsupported claims that it is a tool of Al Qaeda. According to Nancy Heckerman, who claims to be president and chief executive of the Maryland company that has no planes and no routes, Jet Airways of India is an "enterprise which is used to launder money for Al Qaeda." Heckerman's claim was made in filings with the Transportation Department and with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where the Maryland company is trying to stop Jet Airways of India from using its name on flights to the United States. Needless to say, the Indian carrier has vehemently denied the accusations and wants to know why it shouldn't be allowed to use the Jet Airways name in the United States. Heckerman hasn't provided any evidence of her Al Qaeda claim nor has she spoken publicly, but the mere accusation has all but guaranteed that Jet Airways won't be able to launch its Newark flights as planned.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines will begin code-sharing with Island Air from Honolulu later this year. That will extend Continental's reach to the other Hawaiian islands: Maui, the Big Island, Kauai, Lanai and Molokai. Air Canada is launching a raft of nonstops between non-hub cities later this summer. Included are commuter flights from Edmonton to Regina and Saskatoon and Hamilton to Ottawa and Montreal. It will also launch transborder mainline service to Las Vegas from Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. A California court has decided a disgruntled traveler can sue the Harrah's Las Vegas casino because it added an energy surcharge to his bill without disclosing the fee in advance. A Florida lawyer unhappy with his seats after he paid Alitalia nearly $9,000 for four upgrades on a Miami-Milan-Tel Aviv itinerary had his case kicked all the way up to federal court when the Italian carrier insisted the suit could not be litigated in local courts. The federal judge ordered the parties to mediate the dispute and upbraided Alitalia for not settling earlier before the traveler was forced to sue.

The Answer: Because Loan Sharks Don't Give Miles
The Question: Why does Citibank charge a default interest rate of 29.99 percent on its American AAdvantage credit cards?

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.