The Tactical Traveler

The Brave New World of Offensive Baggage Fees
This is notable more for historic significance than its immediate impact on business travelers: Mark February, 2007, as the time that the domestic airlines began shifting to la carte baggage charges in earnest. Effective February 10, Spirit Airlines slashes its free-luggage allowance to one bag per passenger. A second checked bag will now cost Spirit passengers $10. Spirit executives issued the standard blather--going to a one-bag limit will keep fares down--but the truth is quite the opposite: Reducing the free bag limit is an effective fare increase. More to the point, however, the airlines are convinced that they can move to an la carte baggage regimen and generate millions of dollars of extra revenue. "Of course a pay-per-bag system is coming," one Big Six executive told me this week. "We're just waiting for the summer to impose our own new rules. Passengers seem willing to pay for bags, so why shouldn't we charge for carrying them?"

Anybody Need a Northeast Passage to Europe?
If you're unhappy with the quality of European flights offered by U.S. or international carriers, you can now fly Air Canada via its Toronto/Pearson hub with minimal disruption. The big move at Pearson took place smoothly last week and virtually all Air Canada flights to and from the United States now use Terminal 1. That means you can connect with Air Canada's European flight network without changing terminals. Early reports indicate that Canadian customs and immigrations clearance times are extremely short, too. The Thai government has bowed to reality and agreed to re-open Bangkok's old Don Muang airport in the next 60 days. At that time, many flights will shift back there from Suvarnabhumi, which has been plagued by a variety of ills since it opened in September. Even by its own mediocre standards, Kennedy Airport in New York has been plagued by delays during the last year as Delta Air Lines increased international service and launched several tranches of connecting regional-jet (RJ) flights. Undeterred by its own dreadful on-time performance, however, Delta continues to add to its RJ network. Effective May 7, there will be two daily flights to Binghamton, New York.

However Belatedly, JetBlue Wants to Own New York State
Ever since it launched seven years ago, JetBlue Airways has essentially controlled New York/Kennedy Airport and upstate New York destinations such as Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. But it left a flank--suburban New York City--exposed and that weakness was exploited by AirTran Airways. AirTran last year plugged in service from Westchester/White Plains and Newburgh/Stewart. Now JetBlue is responding. It launched flights from Newburgh just before Christmas and next month will startservice from White Plains. Nonstop Airbus A320 flights to Orlando start on March 28. Nonstop A320 flights to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach begin on April 2. Speaking of AirTran, it continues to fill holes in its schedule at its Atlanta hub. Five daily flights to St. Louis begin on May 8. Two daily flights to San Diego launch on May 24. AirTran will also start nonstops between St. Louis and Orlando on June 7. Midwest Airlines, which is desperately fending off a hostile buy-out bid from AirTran, is ramping up its expansion plans. Midwest adds Seattle-Tacoma to its route map beginning April 1 with daily flights from its Kansas City hub. Frontier Airlines says it will start daily nonstops between Dallas/Fort Worth and Mazatlan on June 7.

How Far Can They Push the International Frontier?
After huge increases in transatlantic flights during the last two years, you'd think that the airlines were out of places to expand. Well, think again. The pace of new service continues unabated this year. American Airlines, for example, is upgrading its Rome service. It had been flying from both New York/Kennedy and Chicago/O'Hare on a seasonal basis, but the airline says its service will now operate year-round. Beginning April 10, both routes will operate daily. After October 28, there will be four weekly flights from Chicago and three from Kennedy. Iberia says it will begin five weekly nonstops from Boston to Madrid on May 6. LTU International is adding flights to Dusseldorf from both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Beginning May 3, there will be five weekly flights from LAX and two weekly flights from Las Vegas. Emirates says it will launch three weekly flights from Houston/Intercontinental to Dubai beginning December 3. Frequency increases to daily by February 4, 2008. The ultra-long-haul flights--about 15 hours eastbound and 17 hours westbound--will operate using three-class Boeing 777-200LRs. Shorter-haul regional-jet (RJ) international flights are also growing. American adds a daily RJ flight between its Miami hub and Cozumel on March 2. And Delta Air Lines adds two RJ routes to the Bahamas from its Atlanta hub. Beginning June 16, look for four weekly flights to George Town and three weekly flights to North Eleuthera.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Another Big Six fare increase has crumbled. Last weekend's effort to raise 3-to-21-day advance-purchase fares by $5 each way floundered. Continental OnePass debit cardholders take note: Effective February 21, PIN-based charges won't earn OnePass miles. To continue earning on your debit card, ask the merchant to treat the purchase as a credit transaction. Tel Aviv travelers take note: El Al is dropping its nonstop flights from Chicago/O'Hare. The bloated airline alliances continue to get bigger. Three more carriers--Japan Airlines, Malev and Royal Jordanian--become members of Oneworld on April 1. Air Canada says children under the age of 12 will no longer be permitted to travel alone as an "unaccompanied minor." The policy takes effect on April 1.

All Hail the New King of Velcro
Lodgings that frequently change their brand affiliation are called "Velcro hotels." (The idea being that the signs of the brand of the moment are attached to the building with Velcro.) Two hotels, the current Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan and the current InterContinental Hotel in Kansas City, are generally considered the kings of velcro. But we have a new contender: the current La Quinta Inn in Stamford, Connecticut. The 158-room property on Harvard Avenue switched to the La Quinta chain this week, but that's just the latest name on the 32-year-old hotel. It opened in 1974 as a Howard Johnson's and has also operated as the Stamford Hotel. It has been affiliated with Days Inn twice and was also a Grand Chalet Inn. It changed to Fairfield by Marriott in 2001 and survived until the hotel's new owners hoisted the La Quinta sign on Monday.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.