The Tactical Traveler


Two More Carriers Roll the Dice at Stewart/Newburgh
Logic dictates that Stewart/Newburgh Airport, about 65 miles north of Manhattan, would be a winner. The former Air Force base has a long runway that can handle any aircraft. There's plenty of new counter and gate space. The airport was the first in the nation to be managed by a private company and it has aggressively courted business. And the Hudson Valley region has a growing and increasingly affluent passenger base. But the airport may be cursed. In recent years, Delta and United have pulled out, others (Independence, Southeast, Midway) folded and one, Pan Am, abandoned its Stewart schedule before it ever launched flights. The remaining carriers--Northwest, US Airways and American--now only operate skeletal service. But hope springs eternal. Allegiant Airlines, which flies several days a week to Orlando, adds service to St. Petersburg/Clearwater on December 13. And AirTran, which briefly served Stewart several years ago, returns in a big way in January. It will fly twice a day to its Atlanta hub beginning January 11, then add daily flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa in February. Still, all is not well at the little airport that can't. A name change to Hudson Valley International was announced, then abandoned, after the Stewart family, which years ago donated the land for the airport, objected. And the airport's private operator, National Express, is now trying to sell its 99-year-lease.

Big News at Big Hotels Around the World
The Ritz-Carlton, the Boston property that gave the chain its name, is apparently being sold to India's Taj Hotels. Taj, which is looking to expand beyond India, also recently purchased the lease on The Pierre in New York and the W Hotel in Sydney. It also owns the St. James and 51 Buckingham Gate hotels in London. Taj renamed the Sydney property and took the Pierre out of the Four Seasons chain, but it's unclear whether it will change the Boston property's affiliation. The sale price is reported to be US$170 million. The Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong has reopened after a US$140 million renovation. But be prepared to pay for the fixes: Rates have risen about 25 percent. Le Meridien has opened a 770-room hotel in Shanghai. The 66-story property is in the Puxi district. Gordon Campbell Gray, who created the now-iconic One Aldwych hotel in London, has taken over management of Dukes Hotel, too. The 100-year-old property in St. James will be renovated beginning next year. W Hotels has opened a 78-villa resort in the Maldives.

A Raft of Frequent Flyer Plan Upgrades and Promotions
Welcome to the fourth quarter, when the airlines try to pump up the volume on their frequent flyer programs with rule changes and short-term promotions. Delta SkyMiles members with an American Express/Delta affinity card will receive a 25 percent bonus on most purchases until November 30. Registration is required for both the SkyMiles Card and the SkyPoints Card. US Airways Dividend Miles members hoping to reach elite status have until December 31 to take advantage of the Everything Counts promotion. Essentially, miles earned at hotel and car-rental partners and on Star Alliance flights will count toward elite status. For more information, click here. Northwest WorldPerks members who now have or sign up for select WorldPerks Visa cards will now be allowed to claim as many as two award tickets per year for as little as 19,000 miles each. For more information, click here. ATA Airlines is upgrading its Travel Awards program. The validity period for miles has been extended to two years. Travel booked at will automatically receive double points credit. The airline will also award more miles for travel to Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii and business-class travel will generate a 50 percent points bonus.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways has upped the minimum check-in time for travelers with luggage at its major hubs and several other airports. If you have luggage, you must now check in at least 45 minutes before departure at Charlotte, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and eight other airports. The new airport in Bangkok continues to have opening jitters. Opened last week, the facility has been experiencing baggage-claim delays--especially for travelers booked on Thai Airways--and many of the premium-class lounges are not open. One other problem: The airport is overwhelmed with as many as 100,000 sightseers a day. They aren't flying anywhere. They just want to tour the facility. It was overshadowed by the mid-air collision that killed 155 passengers on a Gol flight in Brazil last week, but a Turkish man hijacked a Turkish Airlines flight earlier this week. The flight was scheduled to operate between Albania and Turkey, but the man forced the plane to land in Southern Italy. He released all passengers, surrendered and then requested asylum.

First Amendment? What First Amendment?
A disgruntled passenger who wrote "Kip Hawley is an idiot" on a plastic bag containing his carry-on toiletries was detained at an airport checkpoint for 25 minutes last weekend. In case you don't know, Hawley heads the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which controls the airport checkpoints. TSA officials later claimed that the man was detained while they checked to make sure he didn't pose a risk to his flight. But the traveler, Ryan Bird, said he was told by a screener, "You can't write things like that." He further claimed that a supervisor said he had no right to express his opinions "in here," meaning the security checkpoint.

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