The Tactical Traveler


United Airlines Hoists the 'For Sale' Sign
In a move that will only shock the credulous observers, United Airlines this week dropped the other shoe in its long, strange, post-9/11 financial life. After limping out of a 38-month bankruptcy on February 1 loaded with debt and mortgaged to the hilt, United has hired Goldman Sachs to advise it on strategic options. That's investment-banking parlance for "sell it or merge it." The United move (first discussed in a Brancatelli File column in January) may set all of the Big Six pinballs in motion. One much-considered possible combination is United and Continental, with Continental management running the merged carrier. A United-Continental merger might also benefit bankrupt and cash-strapped Northwest Airlines, which could command a huge financial premium to waive its "golden share" veto over any Continental merger. But some other Big Six matches are also possible: United-Delta; Delta-Northwest; Northwest-Alaska; and American-Alaska to name just a few. And don't let the uninformed "experts" tell you mergers can't or don't happen in the airline business. Since the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry, American has gobbled up Air Cal, Reno and TWA, which itself had purchased Ozark; Delta merged with Western and picked off huge chunks of Pan Am; Northwest merged with Republic; Continental is a fusion of New York Air, PeoplExpress, the old Frontier and parts of Eastern; and US Airways is an amalgam of PSA, Piedmont and most recently America West. In fact, the only substantive post-deregulation merger that didn't happen was United's attempt to play house with the old US Airways in 2000. So stay tuned.

EU Countries Move to Limit Carry-Ons
The European Union this week decided to tighten its rules on carry-on bags. Representatives of the 25 countries essentially adopted part of the new British carry-on rules and part of the new U.S. and Canadian rules on liquids. If the regulations are adopted, carry-on bags would be limited to 56x45x25cms (22x17x10 inches). Travelers would be required to remove laptops from their cases at security checkpoints. And liquids, gels and aerosol toiletries would be limited to 100ml (3-ounce) containers packed in resealable, 1-liter plastic bags. The rules could become effective as early as November. Delta Air Lines is launching a new transcontinental route. Effective December 15, it will offer a Boeing 737 flight between Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida. The new international airport in Bangkok opened without fanfare or notable incident today (September 28). All carriers serving the Thai capital have left aging Don Muang and relocated at Suvarnabhumi, located about 20 miles from central Bangkok. Porter Airlines, which hopes to start service later this year from controversial, close-in Toronto/City Centre, has been certified to fly by Canadian regulators.

American Express Fiddles With Membership Rewards
American Express Membership Rewards gets a makeover on Sunday, October 1. The double-points deal for "everyday spend" at places such as home-improvement centers and supermarkets will end. At the same time, Amex has launched the Bonus Points Mall. It offers double points for online purchases at about 100 merchants, including Staples, Circuit City, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Target, Saks, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus. Travelers on Air Tahiti Nui can now earn miles in the American AAdvantage program. Dollar Rent a Car has joined the ATA Airlines Travel Rewards program. JetBlue Airways' archaic TrueBlue program, where points expire each year, has added a minor amenity: If you have the American Express JetBlue card and charge a minimum of $200 a year, your TrueBlue points will no longer expire.

Another Lost Link to Sub-Saharan Africa
Here's a good news/bad news item: South African Airways is converting its Washington/Dulles service into a nonstop flight to Johannesburg. Effective October 30, the nonstop will cut almost three hours from the Dulles-Joburg run. What's the bad news? South African is dropping the intermediate stop in Dakar, Senegal, one of the few nonstop links between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. Delta Air Lines is adding two more international routes from its Salt Lake City hub. Beginning December 2, there will be three weekly flights to Guadalajara, Mexico. On January 8, there will be two daily nonstops to Winnipeg, Canada. Lufthansa says business-class passengers are guaranteed an empty seat next to them on flights operated as Lufthansa Regional. Lufthansa Regional is essentially Lufthansa's commuter-carrier network within Europe and operates to 82 cities. The empty-seat policy begins on October 30.

Lenovo Recalls a Half-Million ThinkPad Batteries
Dell and Apple have had to recall laptop batteries manufactured by Sony. Now comes a half-million unit recall by Lenovo and IBM, the companies who've manufactured the popular ThinkPad line of laptop computers. The recall of the Sony batteries used by Lenovo and IBM was ordered after a ThinkPad battery caught fire last week at Los Angeles International Airport. According to the Lenovo battery-recall site, the Sony batteries were used in the ThinkPad R, ThinkPad T and ThinkPad X series machines.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Bankrupt Northwest Airlines and its flight attendants have resumed negotiations under the guidance of federal mediators. In the meantime, the flight attendants are also trying to overturn the federal court injunction against their ability to strike. Fares on inter-island flights in Hawaii have sunk as low as $19 each way after another sale from go!, the start-up commuter carrier owned by Mesa. A 60-year-old woman is suing American Airlines, claiming that she was repeatedly bitten by a brown recluse spider on a flight from Germany to Texas. French chef Alain Ducasse, whose eponymous New York restaurant has had some ups and downs, will check out of the Jumeirah Essex House hotel. He and his dining room are moving to the St. Regis hotel next year.

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