The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 4 - AUGUST 18, 2005

The Summer Misery Quotient Skyrockets
If you're flying more and enjoying it less this summer, you're not hallucinating. A combination of record-high aircraft load factors and record-breaking delays means every day on the road this hot and stormy summer is, well, miserable. According to July traffic figures released this week, the major U.S. carriers are running packed flights. JetBlue Airways, for example, sold 91 percent of the seats it flew in July. Northwest sold 87.5 percent, followed by United at 86.4 percent, Delta and American at 85 percent and Continental and American West at 84 percent. The "laggards" were AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines, each of which sold 80.8 percent of the seats they flew in July. Then add the delays, which in July broke all previous records. One day last month racked up 3,657 delays nationwide, breaking the one-day record from June, 2001. On-time performance for July? Industry-wide numbers won't be available for about a month, but they are likely to be ugly. Continental said this week that just 69.5 percent of its planes operated on-time in July.

Continental Lowers International Checked-Bag Limits
Last week it was Northwest Airlines, now it's Continental Airlines. Continental announced this week that it was reducing the weight limit for checked bags on international flights. Effective September 6, the free limit is now 50 pounds a bag, down from the current 70-pound limit. Bags between 51 and 70 pounds will now cost $25 each. OnePass Elite customers are exempt from the new rule, at least for now. Lufthansa has opened a special first-class area at its Munich hub. It offers a dedicated bar, food service and a "comfort zone" equipped with televisions and armchairs. Eindhoven in the Netherlands loses its flights to Amsterdam on December 11. KLM is dropping the 81-mile route, one of the world's shortest, and ending its 24 weekly flights.

AirTran Airways Will Take on Northwest Airlines in Detroit
Northwest Airlines is facing a mechanics strike on August 20, it's hemorrhaging cash even though it has been largely free of serious low-fare competition and now the inevitable is on the horizon: a serious incursion at one of its fortress hubs by a profitable, well-managed alternate carrier. AirTran Airways announced this week that it would invade Detroit/Metro on November 8 with flights to its own Atlanta hub. It will also fly from Detroit to Orlando beginning November 8 and then add a Detroit-Sarasota route on February 15, 2006. And here's the interesting part: AirTran has posted a business-class fare of $254 one-way on the Atlanta-Detroit route. The business class on AirTran's Boeing 717s offers 22-inch wide seats with 37 inches of legroom. Northwest is charging $599 in first class tomorrow for a Detroit-Atlanta flight. Northwest uses aging DC-9s on the route and first class on those planes is configured with 19.5-inch wide seats that offer just 34 inches of legroom. Effective August 31, Frontier Airlines begins regional jet flights from its Denver hub to both Dayton, Ohio, and Fresno, California.

United Will Charge for Curbside Check-In
Leave it to bankrupt United Airlines to find new ways to annoy its eroding passenger base. Its latest idea: a charge for skycap services. Sometime mid-month, the airline is going nationwide with a $2-per-bag policy that it tested in a few markets earlier this year. So when you curbside check at an airport, checking your bag and getting your boarding pass will cost $2 per bag. But wait, United is not finished. It's now also selling access to its Economy Plus coach seats. Previously, the seats were only available to its elite Mileage Plus flyers. Now, for prices starting at $299 a year, anyone can pay for the privilege of maybe getting one of the roomier seats. You don't need me to tell you how bad a bargain this is for flyers. Examine the terms and conditions for yourself. Oh, and while we're at it, United announced this week that it was just kidding. It won't be filing its first plan of reorganization after more than 32 months in bankruptcy this week after all. Maybe September 1, the airline says. And don't hold you breath about an exit from bankruptcy in 2005, either. Despite loud and repeated pronouncements that 2005 was the year, the airline this week admitted that probably won't happen, either.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The never-ending merry-go-round on Hawaii routes has taken another few turns. North American Airlines says it will dump its flights to the Aloha State from Oakland on September 1. But Delta Airlines is beefing up to Hawaii. Effective December 1, it will add a daily Atlanta-Salt Lake City-Kona service using two-class Boeing 767s. And Hawaiian Airlines will launch nonstops between Honolulu and San Jose, California, on October 1. Two-class Boeing 767s will be used on that route, too. Avis and Budget Rental Car have lowered the minimum rental age to 21 from the current 25. There is, of course, a surcharge ($25 a day) if you happen to be under 25. And Avis and Budget locations in certain states--Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, New Jersey and Washington, DC--will maintain the 25-year-old minimum. Virgin Atlantic is adopting arch-rival British Airways' so-called sleeper service. On Virgin's evening flights to London from Los Angeles, New York/Kennedy and Newark, business-class passengers will be offered dinner in the airport club before departure. That maximizes in-flight sleep time and minimizes in-the-aisle distractions.

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