The Tactical Traveler

BRIEFING FOR MAY 18 - MAY 25, 2006
Back to the Brink at Northwest Airlines
The American Customer Satisfaction Index survey released this week chose Northwest Airlines as the nation's worst carrier. And that's just the beginning of the bad news: Northwest could face a strike on at least three fronts in the coming days. First up is a potential strike at Mesaba, a huge Northwest Airlink commuter carrier. A judge in Mesaba's bankruptcy case could rule as early as today (May 18) on the airline's request to void its union contracts. The unions say they'll strike immediately if Mesaba's request is granted and the airline imposes its own terms. Meanwhile, Northwest itself was back in bankruptcy court this week trying to void the contract of its baggage handlers. The baggage handlers, represented by the International Association of Machinists, say they will strike if Northwest is allowed to void their contract and unilaterally impose working conditions and pay scales. Northwest probably wouldn't be able to operate if the baggage handlers walk. Finally, Northwest is squabbling with its flight attendants, who are voting on a concession-laden contract. Last Friday (May 12), the airline sent a nasty note to its flight attendants demanding that they ratify the deal, which contains about $195 million in cuts on top of a previously negotiated 20 percent pay cut. Flight attendants, who were outraged at the bizarre tenor of the Northwest note, will finish voting on June 6. (A 9 p.m. update: Mesaba's bankruptcy judge ruled on Thursday evening that the airline cannot void its union contracts. He ordered all parties to continue negotiations. That eliminates the threat of an immediate strike at the commuter carrier. That obviates Northwest's move to void the existing contract and eliminates the possibility of an immediate strike.)

They're Back! Mexicana Returns to DFW in July
Mexicana, which abruptly ended flights to Dallas/Fort Worth in January, will return this summer. The Mexican carrier resumes two daily flights to Mexico City on July 1. … Virgin Atlantic flyers take note: The British carrier is dropping its late-night flight from New York/Kennedy to London Heathrow. Effective July 1, the last of its four daily flights on the route will depart at 9:25 p.m. Replacing the late-night flight is an early-morning departure at 7:30 a.m. … Dubai-based Emirates will launch its third Kennedy-Dubai flight on October 29, but this one won't be a nonstop. The carrier will fly a Boeing 777-300ER nonstop from JFK to Hamburg, Germany, and then on to Dubai. .. Malaysia Airlines has been gushing cash and that has led the Malaysia government to strip the carrier of almost all of its domestic routes. Also going: about half of the airline's international routes.

Insert Your California Wine Joke Here…
Politicians in Sacramento have approved a proposal to open a wine bar at Sacramento International airport. The facility will be in Terminal A and be operated by a company that already runs a wine bar at Washington/Dulles. … American Airlines has opened a second Admirals Club at its Miami International hub. The 251-seat lounge is located across from Gate A12 in Miami's Concourse A. … A fifth runway at Atlanta/Hartsfield was christened this week. It is due to open for commercial flights on May 27 and Atlanta officials claim the new runway will reduce delays. Wanna bet? … Houston/Hobby is expected to impose a $3 passenger-facility charge in October.

Oh, Woe Is the Dollar Overseas (and Closer Than That!)
The U.S. dollar is trading at near-record lows against virtually every major currency. Today's rates are truly dreary, so get ready: The euro now commands $1.29, the British pound is at $1.90 and the Swiss franc is at $1.21. A dollar buys about 110 Japanese yen. The greenback is also being pummeled down under, where the Australian dollar has surged to about 75 U.S. cents. And the dollar's weakness has even reached across the border. The Canadian looney, which hit a record low of 62 cents in 2002, now commands about 90 U.S. cents. … Continental Airlines has raised fares by about $2 each way. … The inter-island fare war in Hawaii, which has driven advance-purchase prices down to $39 each way, now has a roundtrip component: $59 roundtrip for midweek travel. The fare war was started by go!, a new carrier that hopes to launch flights on June 9.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Here's a stunner: Southwest Airlines confirmed this week that it is studying a plan to offer assigned seats. The carrier says it has been upgrading its internal reservation system to permit advanced seat assignments, but wouldn't change its current "open boarding" system any time this year or next. … Here's a blast from the past: American Airlines is offering double miles on flights until November 15. The hitch: Tickets must be purchased by May 31 to qualify and registration is required. Prefer to fly United Airlines and get double miles? United matched the American offer today (May 18) with the exact same terms. Registration is also required. … Here's an update: The government-run auction of airwaves that will allow two companies to sell domestic, in-flight Internet has entered its second week. One notable drop-out: Verizon, which operates the remaining in-flight phones.

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