The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 23 - JULY 7, 2005
Another Ugly Week on the Security Front
We've gotten used to the fact that there is almost never any good news about security, but this week may set the record for duplicity and stupidity. Where shall we start? Well, how about here: Documents obtained by the Associated Press show that the Transportation Security Administration collected and stored extensive personal information on passengers even though Congress told TSA not to do it and TSA officials promised Congress that they wouldn't. The TSA's response to the disclosure? Officials claimed that its previous statements and Congressional assurances didn't apply because the TSA had changed the parameters of the Secure Flight test program. A private attempt at a so-called registered traveler program got off to a rocky start at Orlando Airport on Tuesday when the company's computers crashed, passengers showed up without the required documentation and the firm underestimated the number of travelers who would apply. The program, which costs $80 for extremely dubious security-clearance privileges, is called Clear. Six passengers removed by air marshals from a plane bound for Washington/National Airport last Sunday turned out to be military officials from Qatar headed to a meeting at the Pentagon. The men were removed from a US Airways flight before it departed from Orlando because the air marshals aboard claimed they were acting in a suspicious manner. The American Civil Liberties Union and United Airlines settled a discrimination lawsuit stemming from a spate of incidents after 9/11 when passengers and flight crews refused to fly with "Arabs" on board. American Airlines previously settled a similar discrimination suit. As I wrote in a column at the time, not a single person removed from a plane after 9/11 was anything but a normal frequent flyer. Many were not even Arab.

Fuelish Talk on the America West-US Airways Merger
America West has been pitching its merger with bankrupt US Airways on the grounds that the combined carriers could be profitable with oil at $50 a barrel. Oil is now perilously near the $60-a-barrel level, but reality never seems to intrude on airline executives who are hell bent for merger. When asked about the combined carriers' prospects in a $60-a-barrel world, America West executives suggested this week that they'd still be fine because other airlines would have to cut back in the face of the higher fuel prices. All of which makes you wonder about America West chief executive Doug Parker's recent claim that he had "chosen to confront the reality" of consistently high fuel prices. Speaking of US Airways, the airline's bankruptcy-court judge has approved about half of a proposed management-retention scheme. US Airways executives wanted to spend about $55 million, but Judge Stephen Mitchell slashed the amount in half and told the airline's top officers that they need not apply. ... But there was some good news on the US Airways-America West front: The Justice Department said late today (June 23) that it had no objection to the merger. ... United Airlines management received another extension on the exclusivity period for filing a plan of reorganization. They now have until September 1, which would mean they will have gone 33 months in Chapter 11 without ever having explained their plans to get the airline out of bankruptcy. The chairman of Northwest Airlines has sold about 60 percent of his stake in the carrier since mid-May. Gary L. Wilson, who got control of the carrier in 1997 in a leveraged buyout that has since crippled the airline with debt, has sold about 2.5 million of his 4.2 million shares. The Transportation Department says carriers may now charge passengers $50 to reaccommodate them if they hold tickets on an airline that stops flying.

The Dollar Continues Upward Against the Euro
The U.S. dollar edged near the psychologically important $1.20 mark against the euro on Thursday. With the European Union in chaos over budget issues and the French and Dutch rejection of the proposed EU Constitution, signs are that the dollar may gain against the euro throughout the summer. Visa has temporarily suspended its controversial 1 percent "cross-border" fee imposed on every transaction that U.S. travelers made outside the United States. But Visa cardholders won't see a reduction of fees because most banks that issue Visa cards automatically raise their own currency fees whenever Visa lowers its charges. MasterCard hasn't commented on the fate of its 1 percent cross-border fee, scheduled to go into effect in October. Diners Club has largely completed its transition to co-branding with MasterCard. One bit of good news delivered in membership packets this week: Diners Club's superlative primary coverage on rental cars, which allows cardholders to decline the overpriced collision-damage waiver, has been raised to $75,000. It had been $50,000. Also notable: Diners has finally phased out the "classic" version of the moribund Carte Blanche card. The remaining holders of the old Carte Blanche card--Diners also has a deluxe card called the Carte Blanche Diners Club--have been issued standard Diners Club cards.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways will resume a more traditional food service in first class on its transcontinental flights. Effective August 1, the much-disliked snack boxes will be replaced with a choice of hot entrees. The Georgia Supreme Court threw out a case against Delta Air Lines that claimed the carrier was responsible for the actions of a drunken passenger who was involved in a traffic accident on the way home from the airport. The victim of the accident, who was seriously injured in a head-on collision with the drunken passenger, sued Delta using a Georgia law that makes a bar responsible if it serves alcohol to intoxicated customers. Speaking of drinking and flying, two former America West pilots were convicted of trying to fly a passenger jet while intoxicated. The pilots were hauled off the plane in Miami just before takeoff in 2002 after a security screener reported the pair smelled of alcohol. Austrian Airlines says it will outfit its long-haul fleet with the Connexion by Boeing high-speed Internet service.

Let Them Eat Ice Cream
Okay, so the domestic airlines have basically eliminated in-flight meals in coach. No great loss. After all, who really liked that stuff anyway? But the airlines seem to have lost their sense of irony somewhere along the way, too. America West Airlines announced this week that it's newest promotion was a celebration of National Ice Cream Month. So from June 25 through July 1, passengers on ten America West flights a day will receive certificates for free Cold Stone Creamery brand ice cream.

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