The Tactical Traveler


Delta's International Expansion: Desperate Déjà Vu
The Big Six have flooded international routes with flights this year and passenger bookings are faltering, but that didn't stop bankrupt Delta Air Lines from announcing a major transatlantic expansion this week. The strategy not only echoes Delta's massive 1991 expansion when it purchased Pan Am's European routes, but it also shows signs of being even more desperate and more financially disastrous than the Pan Am fiasco. Delta is slashing domestic service by about 20 percent in the coming months and some of the planes, Boeing 767-400s in particular, are being shifted to the new international routes. The problem with that idea? The Boeing 767-400s are configured with 34 domestic first-class seats, not Delta's BusinessElite international configuration. So Delta has decided to sell only coach service; seats in the first-class cabin on the 767-400s will probably be available only for upgrades and SkyMiles award travel. Among the new and existing routes that will use the bastardized cabin configuration: New York/Kennedy-Manchester, England; Atlanta-Shannon; Kennedy to Dublin and Shannon; Atlanta-Rome; and Delta Flights 10 and 11 between Atlanta and London/Gatwick. Delta's other newly announced nonstop transatlantic routes will be flown with Boeing 767-300s configured with BusinessElite and coach. The routes include Atlanta to Tel Aviv, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Nice and Venice; and Kennedy to Budapest and Kiev, Ukraine.

More Wi-Fi (But You'll Pay) at the Terminal
Two more airports, Atlanta and Stewart/Newburgh in New York, will turn on Wi-Fi service in public areas next week. But you'll pay for the privilege. Atlanta will be charging $7.95 a day; Stewart will charge an hourly fee. … Detroit-Metro travelers probably won't miss it, but airport authorities have begun demolition of the old Davey Terminal. … Adelaide Airport in Australia has opened a new, A$260 million terminal. The big improvement: 14 glass-sided passenger bridges. … British Airways now offers advance boarding passes via at 11 more U.S. airports. It hopes to offer the service from all its American gateways by the end of November.

JetBlue Expands (Service) and Contracts (Profits)
JetBlue Airways has been solidly profitable since it went public in 2002 and it kept its winning streak intact today (October 20) by announcing a $2.7 million third-quarter profit. But the airline admits that it will lose money in the fourth quarter and the loss might be large enough to force the airline into the red for the entire year. The downturn won't slow down the airline's growth, however, because the carrier has begun to take delivery of its new 100-seat Embraer 190 jets. The carrier, which has been flying an all-Airbus fleet, will be getting more than two dozen of the EMB-190s by the end of next year. Some of the new planes have already been earmarked for new routes from New York/Kennedy hub: Boston flights begin November 8; Austin flights begin January 19; and Richmond, Virginia, service launches March 31. Besides the flights to JFK, new routes from Boston include flights to West Palm Beach (November 8); Austin (January 19); Nassau, Bahamas (February 2); and Richmond (April 6). The EMB-190, a stylized, stretched regional jet, has 25 rows configured 2x2 with no middle seats. There is 32 inches of legroom.

Oh, What a Tangled Fare Web the Airlines Weave…
If you want to "understand" the madness of airfares, consider the ménage-à-trois between Northwest, ATA and AirTran. Bankrupt ATA Airlines announced last Thursday (October 13) that it would shed some service from its Chicago/Midway hub. The airline will drop its Boston and Newark routes next week and has scrapped plans to launch flights to Miami and Sarasota. Also going is Midway-Minneapolis, which ends on December 1. On Friday, October 14, Northwest took advantage of its sudden monopoly status on the Midway-Minneapolis route. It raised one-way walk-up fares to $519 on December 1 from $124 on November 30, the last day of ATA's service. By Monday morning (October 17), however, Northwest introduced a capacity-controlled $195 walk-up fare on Minneapolis-Midway flights. Why the change? Because AirTran Airways leapt into the breach created by ATA. On Monday afternoon, AirTran announced that it would begin Midway-Minneapolis and Midway-Boston flights on December 6. The prices AirTran announced shredded Northwest's outrageous $519 price and even its hastily lowered $195 fare. AirTran posted an $89 one-way price with a 14-day advance purchase, a $119 fare with 7-day advance purchase and a $149 one-way 3-day purchase fare. It also added a capacity-controlled walk-up business-class fare of just $249 one-way, which dramatically undercut Northwest's lowest first-class price of $567. By Tuesday morning, October 18, Northwest had changed fares again. It matched AirTran's coach prices and added a $284 capacity-controlled, walk-up first-class fare.

US Airways Pays Travel Agents to Charge Higher Fares
One of the dark sides of the America West-US Airways merger is that America West's heinous Commission Choice program will be expanded to cover the combined carriers. The two-year-old program pays travel agents a special commission if they charge travelers a higher fare. The special, extra-commission price agents can quote is usually about 11 percent higher than the lowest prevailing fare. Chances are the travel agent won't alert you to the lower fare, so you're on your own. … With two start-up airlines, Eos and Maxjet, launching premium-class flights to London, British Airways has responded by creating a 7-day advance purchase business-class fare. Priced about 20 percent below walk-up prices, the fare is available from seven U.S. and Canadian cities. But here's the quirk: The 7-day business-class fare from New York/Kennedy or Newark is US$6,857 roundtrip. It's US$6,640 from Chicago and a startling $8,777 from Los Angeles. From Toronto or Montreal, however, it's only C$4,790 roundtrip, the equivalent of just US$4,072. So check your connecting flight options through Canada before you book. … The U.S. dollar hit a 25-month high against the euro this week and is now selling for about $1.19. The dollar is also up against the British pound ($1.77) and the Japanese yen (¥115).

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Never let it be said the Big Six aren't inventive when it comes to inventing new fees to beat a few bucks out of their best flyers. This week it's United Airlines, which will charge you $200 if you want to earn double elite-qualification miles. The program permits you to double your earnings toward 2006 elite status when you fly between October 25 and December 31. … The Gold Points program is now operating at Radisson and other Carlson-branded hotels in the Asia-Pacific region. Gold Points members can earn points and claim awards at 46 properties in the region. … Royal Jordanian will join the Oneworld alliance next year. It is the first Middle Eastern carrier to join any of the major alliance programs. … The combined US Airways is now off the public payroll. The Air Transportation Stabilization Board has sold off the $777 million of loans owed by the airlines. A syndicate of 13 fixed-income investors bought the paper.

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Fish! It's a Plane! It's Pork!
You may have heard that Alaska Airlines has painted one of its Boeing 737-300s to look like a gigantic Alaska king salmon. The chinook-alike has been dubbed the "Salmon Thirty Seven." Cute, huh? I hope you still think it's cute when you learn that the $500,000 paint job was funded by you, the taxpayer. Alaska Airlines got the money for the paint job from the nonprofit Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board. And the marketing board got its money from a $29 million federal appropriation earmarked to promote Alaska's commercial salmon industry.

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