The Tactical Traveler

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Registered Travelers…
You know the Transportation Security Administration's promise to roll out a nationwide registered traveler program by June 20? Well, forget it. The TSA has never really wanted a frequent-flyer security bypass program, so it has been dragging its bureaucratic feet. And faced with a self-imposed deadline of April 20 to announce key components of the promised nationwide plan, the TSA hedged again. Last week it said it would begin a registered traveler plan at just a handful of airports this year. But the TSA once again refused to define the benefits for flyers, who would pay private companies as much as $100 a year to become registered travelers and would be required to surrender a lifetime of personal information. More to the point, the TSA didn't even designate the third-party firms permitted to run the program. Most important of all, many big airports and the major airlines are so disgusted with the TSA that they now oppose Registered Traveler. Only one U.S. airport--Orlando--has a program and the TSA hasn't even decided if the Orlando plan, called Clear, meets its still-to-be-defined nationwide standards. And three key hub airports--Atlanta, San Francisco and Detroit--have already said that they won't launch a Registered Traveler program.

A Blink Here and a Blink There
US Airways has blinked in its war with JetBlue Airways. As you probably know, JetBlue said two weeks ago that it would launch flights in July to Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham from its hub at New York's Kennedy airport. Announcing that fares will start at $69 and $79 one-way, JetBlue chief executive David Neeleman said Carolinians had traditionally "overpaid for sub-standard service." That incensed US Airways chief executive Douglas Parker, who realized that his Charlotte-hubbed carrier was being ridiculed. He responded with his own verbal jab several days later, excoriating JetBlue's poor on-time record and suggesting that the carrier couldn't charge enough to be profitable. Earlier this week, however, Parker and US Airways dropped the other shoe and slashed fares to New York from Charlotte and Raleigh from about $400 roundtrip to about $200 roundtrip. … Meanwhile, JetBlue did some blinking of its own this week. After reporting its second consecutive losing quarter--it was $32 million in the red--Neeleman said he's slowing the carrier's breakneck expansion. Instead of growing by about 30 percent this year as planned, JetBlue will grow by just 20 percent. It will also defer some plane deliveries, redirect some transcontinental flying to shorter-haul routes and even sell a few of its oldest Airbus A320s. Of course, some perspective is in order here: JetBlue's oldest planes were put into service in 2000; that's a year after any airline named US Airways reported its last profit.

Africa Gets An (Ever-So-Slight) Flight Boost
American business travelers don't call Africa the "Lost Continent" for nothing. There are virtually no nonstop flights to Africa and the service that does exist is notoriously sporadic. But things will get (ever-so-slightly) better this spring. North American Airlines, which operates a weekly flight between New York/JFK and Accra, Ghana, is expanding. Effective June 3, North American will operate two weekly flights between JFK and Accra. It has also added business-class service on the flights. The next day, North American will launch one weekly flight on the Baltimore/Washington-Banjul, Gambia-Accra route. … Speaking of Africa, South African Airways is changing the intermediate stop on its Washington/Dulles to Johannesburg flights. Beginning Tuesday (May 2), South African will operate four weekly flights nonstop to Dakar, Senegal; the flights will then continue to Johannesburg. South African also operates on the JFK-Dakar-Johannesburg route.

Nothing Is What It Seems…
Someone must think the merged and recently out of bankruptcy US Airways is on the fast track to nirvana. The stock, trading under the ticker symbol LCC, hit several record highs this week and closed today (April 27) at a shockingly high $44.30. And a Wall Street analyst upgraded US Airways ahead of the airline's first-quarter earnings report on May 9. But don't be fooled: The combined carrier's workforce is very unhappy. The airline was hit with a wildcat strike in Pittsburgh yesterday because gate and ramp workers are frustrated over stalled contract negotiations. And the airline's competing pilots groups, one from the old US Airways and the other from America West, have made no progress at all working out their differences. Watch the situation closely. … Pilots at bankrupt Northwest Airlines finish voting on a concessionary contract on Wednesday (May 3). Insiders say there's a 50-50 chance that the contract will be rejected. … The bankruptcy judge in the Delta Air Lines case has rejected the company's request to reject the contract of flight attendants at the carrier's Comair division. The judge said Delta and Comair have not negotiated in good faith.

The Dollar Tanks…Again
The U.S. dollar is getting hammered again. It has dropped to $1.26 against the euro and a seven-month low of $1.80 against the pound. It dropped to a three-month low of ¥113 Japanese yen. Even the long-dormant Canadian dollar hit a 14-year high against the U.S. dollar. A Canadian dollar is now worth about 89 U.S. cents. … Several carriers increased fuel surcharges this week, including Air France, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Qantas. And Aer Lingus, the last major overseas carrier without a fuel charge, added one on U.S. flights. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand raised domestic and international fares 10 percent, blaming the rising price of fuel.

No, It Doesn't Look Like a Tire…
Akron-Canton Airport is scheduled to open its new passenger concourse on Tuesday (May 2). The concourse has four gates, a glass atrium, a food court and free Wi-Fi Internet access. AirTran will use three of the four gates. … Dallas Love Field now has Wi-Fi access. It costs $3.95 for a two-hour session; the connection is supplied by AT&T. … Williams Gateway Airport, on the grounds of the old Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix, now has commercial flights. There will be four turboprop flights a week to North Las Vegas Airport flown by charter carrier Vision Airlines. … Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii near Volcanoes National Park, got its first mainland flight in decades today (April 27). ATA Airlines now flies a daily Boeing 737 to Oakland.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Air Canada continues to fiddle with its fare structure. The latest wrinkle: Its lowest-priced fares, called Tango, are discounted by US$8/C$10 each way if the passenger does not check luggage. The scheme is called the "GO Discount." As you may know, Tango-level fares do not include pre-assigned seats. … Here's a frightening item: Security officials at Durham/Tees Valley airport in England stopped a man from boarding a bmi flight after a "tip" from the cab driver who drove him to the airport. What did the cabbie "know" about the flyer? He had requested that the driver play two songs, London Calling by the Clash and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin, through the cab's stereo. The rock classics have fleeting references to war and violence. The passenger, 23-year-old Harraj Mann, was arrested. He was later released without charge when the local police decided that he wasn't a threat. Mann missed his flight to London's Heathrow Airport. No one apologized.

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