The Tactical Traveler

Virgin America's Price of Entry: Off With His Head
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has tentatively reversed its decision to deny Virgin America's application to launch its scheduled service. But to get its wings, the 8-year-old brainchild of Richard Branson must pay a high price. In a ruling released on Tuesday, the DOT says Virgin America must ditch its chief executive officer, Fred Reid, the former Delta and Lufthansa executive who was hired by Branson. Virgin America must also alter the royalty agreements with Branson's Virgin Group; adjust lease and loan agreements with Branson; make sure that Branson's 25 percent share of the airline is placed in a suitably independent voting trust; and reduce the number of Branson's appointments to the board of directors. If Virgin America makes the changes demanded by the DOT, it could get into the skies during the summer.

And Now for Something Completely Different...
Everything we know about how and where U.S. and European airlines fly will change in the next year. After what seems like years of fights, negotiations and recriminations, the United States and the 27-nation European Union have approved a new transatlantic air agreement. The new deal replaces the patchwork of so-called bi-lateral treaties between the United States and each individual country in the EU. There are likely to be two major impacts on the transatlantic route maps after the deal goes into effect on March 30, 2008. All U.S. and British carriers will have the right to fly to the United States from London's Heathrow Airport, which is currently restricted to just four airlines (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United and American). And any U.S. or European carrier will be permitted to fly between any two points between the United States and Europe. It didn't take long for airlines to make announcements of new service. Aer Lingus said today that it would begin flying from Ireland to three new U.S. cities before the end of the year: San Francisco, Orlando and Washington/Dulles. And Continental Airlines said it wanted to fly next year between its Houston/Intercontinental hub and Heathrow and from its Cleveland hub to Paris.

Blink and You Missed Priority Club's New Price Hikes
What do frequent travelers hate more than airlines and hotels raising the price for their awards? Airlines and hotels that hike their award rates without advance notice. This week's candidate for most hated: Priority Club Rewards, the frequency program of InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. Some Holiday Inn properties hiked their free-night rates to 25,000 points from 15,000 points. And some InterContinental hotels raised their price to 40,000 points, a 10,000-point increase. … American Express Membership Rewards is increasing its annoying fee for converting Membership Rewards points to frequent flyer miles. Effective May 1, the rate will be .0005 cents per point converted up to a maximum of $75 a transaction. … Frontier Airlines' EarlyReturns program now permits members to earn elite status based on segments flown or dollars charged to a Frontier MasterCard. Elite members now also have the right to reserve exit-row seating at the time of booking and will pay reduced fees for confirmed-standby or reservation changes.

New Names on Old Hotels, New Places for New Properties
There are two new Marriott properties on the international scene: a 150-room Marriott hotel in Ghent, Belgium, and a 300-room Renaissance in Wuhan City, Hubei, China. … Radisson is putting its flag on the Great Southern hotels at the airports in Dublin, Shannon and Cork, Ireland. The Dublin and Cork properties will take the Radisson SAS name. The Shannon hotel will become a Park Inn. … The 241-room Wyndham Hotel in downtown Toledo will convert to the Crowne Plaza brand later this year.

What's Another US Airways Meltdown Between Friends?
After a 9-day, self-imposed computer meltdown earlier this month, you'd think that US Airways would be extra-careful not to offend any more customers. But never let it be said that the arrogant and incompetent fools who run the airline can't come up with new ways to infuriate passengers. The snow and ice storm that hit the East Coast last weekend apparently caught management off-guard because they must not have the Weather Channel at US Airways headquarters in balmy Tempe, Arizona. So while Delta, Northwest, JetBlue and American pre-cancelled much of their weekend schedules in the East, US Airways management blundered into another nightmare. More than 2,000 US Airways flights were cancelled after passengers left for their respective airports. Some travelers spent several nights in the airports in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. And they were the lucky ones. Travelers on several US Airways flights in Philadelphia spent up to eight hours stuck on their planes. (In fairness, it is also worth noting that some passengers were stuck on their planes for hours at New York/Kennedy; those isolated flights were operated by Cathay Pacific, Swiss and Royal Air Maroc.)

Yes, This Is How You Get Upgraded…
In case you didn't have this story forwarded to you by a fellow frequent flyer: A woman died last week in the coach cabin on a British Airways flight from Delhi to London. Flight attendants then moved her body to an empty seat in first class.

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