The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 29 TO APRIL 12, 2007
Another Big Gamble on Small Jets at a New Airline
ExpressJet, the former Continental Airlines commuter carrier, launches its own branded flights on Monday, April 2. Using a mix of 37-to-50-seat regional jets (RJ), the carrier will fly between 59 city pairs after the rollout is complete in 60 days. The airline's president and chief executive, Jim Ream, says that XJet will operate the only nonstop service on 55 of those routes. That alone should help differentiate ExpressJet's launch from the start-up of Independence Air, the former United Express commuter airline that mounted its own branded service in 2004 and disappeared in less than two years. Independence launched RJ service in competitive markets and was in a brutal battle at its Washington/Dulles hub with United, its erstwhile partner. Ream also noted two other differences: Unlike Independence, XJet is not positioning itself as a low-priced carrier (there isn't even an introductory fare sale) and ExpressJet is selling tickets via all major distribution outlets. ExpressJet's route map is skewed to the Western and Southwestern states and it will concentrate the most flights at underserved Ontario, in California's so-called Inland Empire. "We think this will be one of the better products in the market," Ream told me this week. "We've put XM radio at every seat and we think that the [in-flight food and snacks] will be something folks will want to eat."

Prepare for Delays at Detroit/Metro
Detroit/Metro is closing one of its runways at the beginning of May and repairs will take most of the rest of the year. The $50 million project is likely to increase delays on both arrivals and departures. Plan accordingly. ... Don Muang Airport has reopened in Bangkok to relieve the pressure on controversial Suvarnabhumi Airport, which opened last September. The new airport has serious design flaws and has been overwhelmed by traffic since its opening. A newly renovated West Hall 2 is scheduled to open at Paris/Orly next week. The all-business-class French airline L'Avion currently uses close-in Orly for its flight from Newark, but U.S. carriers are required to use Paris/Charles de Gaulle. WiFi service operated by T-Mobile is now available in all public areas of Los Angeles International and LA/Ontario airports. A new Heineken beer bar has opened at Hong Kong International. The Dutch brewer wants to open similar lounges at major gateway airports around the world.

Lots of Changes at Big-Name, Big-Ticket Hotels Worldwide
If you're lucky enough to travel at or near the top of the worldwide hotel market, this week's news is just for you. Let's start in London, where the venerable Connaught in Mayfair has closed for a six-month, $100 million renovation and restoration. The 110-year-old property is due to get a new wing with a spa and swimming pool. A garden will be planted on the roof to reduce the hotel's carbon footprint. In Cardiff, Wales, the St. David's Hotel has been sold and is no longer part of the Rocco Forte Group. In Dublin, the Shelbourne Hotel has reopened after a long and much-needed renovation. The hotel is operating as a Renaissance, Marriott's other full-service brand. In Tokyo, Ritz-Carlton has opened a 248-room property in the Roppongi district. Guestrooms are about 550 square feet (gigantic for Tokyo, of course) and Ritz says the Presidential Suite "is the most expensive in Japan" at $20,000 a night. Finally, the 600-room Westin Rio Mar Beach in Puerto Rico is being reflagged as a Wyndham hotel in mid-May.

Registered Traveler 'Fast Lane' Stays on the Slow Track
Only one registered traveler program, Clear, is up and running and it has signed up just 40,000 travelers. But that looks like a success compared to the other private-sector competitors in the so-called fast lane security-bypass business. Flo said earlier this month that it had finally signed up its first airport, Huntsville, Alabama, but no start date was announced. Verant still has no airport clients. The airport in Jacksonville, Florida, says it will launch a registered traveler program, but its private-sector provider, Vigilant Solutions, doesn't currently have final TSA approval to operate. And the Unisys registered traveler program was supposed to launch in February in Reno, but its debut was pushed back to mid-March and then the end of this month. Unisys now says the lanes will open in April.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has apparently decided to bar cell phone calls on planes. Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC, says passenger resistance and technical questions make the use of personal cell phones in-flight impractical. The Big Six raised fares $5 each way on routes where they do not compete with Southwest Airlines. Meanwhile, three carriers--Singapore Airlines, Air France and KLM--have hiked their fuel surcharges. Delta Air Lines says it could exit bankruptcy as early as April 30. Thai Airways has changed its mind once again and now says that it will continue to fly nonstop from Bangkok to both New York/JFK and Los Angeles. After initially deciding to dump the ultra-long-haul Airbus A345 flights, the current plan is to increase frequency on both routes to daily flights. Two airlines went down in metaphoric flames this week: Harmony Airways, a Canadian carrier based in Vancouver, said it would end scheduled service beginning tomorrow. All flights will end by April 9. And the Mexican government grounded Azteca due to safety concerns. If the carrier doesn't fix its problems by the beginning of summer, it will be shuttered for good.

What to Expect on the Road in April
Flyers in the Pacific Northwest get some much-needed new service this month. Midwest launches a daily nonstop from Kansas City to Seattle on April 1. On April 17, Delta Air Lines will link Portland, Oregon, to its huge transatlantic hub at New York/Kennedy. On April 10, American Airlines will begin a nonstop link from Austin, Texas' high-tech center, to Seattle. All roads lead to Rome, but flight service to the Eternal City is always in short supply. That will change when United Airlines launches daily nonstops from its Washington/Dulles hub. That route begins on April 1. Ten days later, American Airlines will begin year-round service to Rome from both its Chicago/O'Hare and New York/Kennedy hubs. There will be daily flights until the fall and less frequent winter service. Speaking of American Airlines and Chicago, travelers in the South get better access to O'Hare this month when American and its commuter carrier launch flights to Shreveport, Louisiana, and Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama. All of the flights start on April 10 with 44- or 50-seat regional jets. Upstate New York--specifically Albany, Massena, Ogdensburg and Watertown--gets 22 daily commuter flights to Boston/Logan on Delta beginning on April 8.

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