The Tactical Traveler


United's Out of Bankruptcy and Wasting Your Time
If you ever doubted that the financial shenanigans of the airlines have an immediate, deleterious effect on your daily lives on the road, you need only look to United Airlines. As everyone knows, United ended its long, strange bankruptcy ride yesterday (February 1). But what you may not know is that United also chose yesterday to impose its new and more onerous airport rules. Effective yesterday, United now requires passengers to be at the gate with a boarding pass at least 30 minutes before departure for North American and Caribbean destinations and at least 45 minutes before departures to international cities. Why the new annoyance? United needs planes to expand, but has deferred deliveries of new aircraft and can't borrow money because it pledged all of its assets to secure exit funding. United's braintrust claims that forcing flyers to the gate earlier will help the airline shorten the "turn" time that aircraft spend on the ground between flights. United says this "resource optimization program" will "deliver the equivalent of 10 additional aircraft using existing" planes. Whether United can pull off the faster turns is an open question since weather, delays, connecting flights and staffing also affect turn times. But one thing is certain: United has shifted more of the time and financial burden of flying directly onto you.

The Other Guys Are Flying Everywhere You Look
The Big Six continue to trim their domestic operations, but the alternate carriers are moving to fill the gaps. Here is what's on tap in the months ahead. AirTran Airways adds a nonstop Atlanta-Fort Myers route on February 15. Then, on April 4, it will begin flying from White Plains, New York, with three daily nonstops to Atlanta and one each to Orlando and West Palm Beach. It will also expand in Indianapolis. On May 9 it begins nonstops to Los Angeles and it will launch nonstops to San Francisco on June 7. And seasonal nonstops between Atlanta and Seattle begin May 25. ... JetBlue Airways will ramp up more Orlando service on May 3 when it adds two daily flights to San Juan and a daily flight to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. It will also begin two daily flights between its New York/Kennedy hub and Bermuda on May 4. ... Also new in the Bermuda market is Spirit Airlines. It will begin flying from New York/LaGuardia on May 15.

Hey, We're Coming Out, Too...
The emergence of United Airlines from bankruptcy after more than three years and $300 million in legal fees naturally dominated the Chapter 11 corner this week. But there was other news: ATA Airlines said that it will exit bankruptcy around the end of the month. The carrier was rescued by Southwest Airlines, which pumped in cash at a crucial time and cut a code-share deal with the failing discounter. But Southwest exacted a heavy price: It took all but two of ATA's gates at Chicago/Midway Airport, installed its own man as chief executive and now seems to control where ATA flies. Which explains why ATA, which had been slashing flights, is suddenly adding new service. Beginning April 27, ATA will start a battery of flights to Hawaii, where Southwest's Boeing 737s can't fly. There will be daily nonstops from Oakland to Honolulu, Maui and even Hilo, which currently has no mainland service at all. (At the same time, ATA will drop its Hawaii flights from San Francisco across the Bay.) ATA will also begin flying to Honolulu from Ontario, California. Separately, the airline says it will add two daily flights between Houston/Hobby and New York/LaGuardia, another place where Southwest doesn't fly. The HOU-LGA service begins on April 2. Southwest, of course, is the dominant carrier at all three airports (Oakland, Ontario and Houston/Hobby) where ATA is launching the expansion.

Change Is Inevitable in the Hotel Game
Got that hotel scorecard handy? Good, because it's time to play another stirring game of follow the flag. The former Days Inn at Toronto Airport has been converted to the Four Points Toronto Airport. The property is offering a "stopover" rate of C$129 a night; the price includes up to two weeks of free parking. ... Two former Radisson hotels have changed flags, too. The 257-room Sheraton Cincinnati North is the old Radisson nearest the Sharonville Convention Center. It has undergone a $20 million renovation. And the 517-room Radisson Plaza on South Main Street in Fort Worth, Texas, will become a Hilton hotel in April after a $10 million upgrade. The hotel is a sad footnote in history. Opened in 1921 as the Hotel Texas, it was where President John F. Kennedy stayed on November 21, 1963. He was assassinated the next day in Dallas. ... A Four Seasons hotel has opened in East Palo Alto, California. It's a little late to cash in on the room shortage in Silicone Valley, of course, but the high-rise hotel is being touted as part of the gritty city's gentrification program. ... A 310-room Crowne Plaza has opened adjacent to the World Trade Center in Mexico City.

Restrictions, Deletions and Cancellations, Oh My...
Inactive members of the US Airways Dividend Miles program take note: The airline says it will delete your account and your miles if there has been no activity during the past three years. The erasures will begin on February 15. But here's a no-cost, no-hassle way to maintain your balance: Sign up for Dividend Miles' E-mail statements. It not only keeps your account active and your miles intact, but you will also receive a 1,000-mile bonus. ... The first-ever capacity controls on Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards awards go into effect on February 10. Any award issued after that date is subject to the change. To ease the blow, Southwest extended the lifespan of Rapid Reward credits to two years. Previously, credits were only valid for a year.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Southwest Airlines raised airfares $1-$3 each way systemwide this week. JetBlue Airways, which reported its first quarterly loss as a public company yesterday, also raised fares. JetBlue's increase seems to be about $5 a flight. ... American Airlines says it will place Lenovo PCs and ThinkPad laptops in all its Admirals Clubs. Lenovo is the Chinese company that bought IBM's retail PC and laptop business. American formerly had a similar agreement for Admirals Club computers with IBM. ... Chances are you've never heard of Flyglobespan, one of dozens of low-fare airlines plying the European skies. What's unique about Flyglobespan, however, is that it has transatlantic aspirations. It wants to begin flying from Glasgow, Scotland, to Orlando beginning in May. It will use a Boeing 767-300 on the route.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.