Royal Caribbean Aims to Ease Airport Waits

Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) said Wednesday it's expanding a program designed to help passengers avoid long lines and reduce their waits at airports throughout the United States. The program allows passengers to complete the airline and luggage check-in process for their flights home before getting off their cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean tested the program for the past two years in Vancouver, British Columbia. It offered something similar before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks but stopped it due to security concerns and then resumed it in 2002 for a while at the Port of Miami-Dade.

The program is up and running for Celebrity Cruises passengers whose voyages end in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, San Diego, Seattle and San Juan, P.R. Celebrity Cruises is one of two brands owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises. Its namesake brand, Royal Caribbean International, offers the program to passengers whose cruises end in San Juan and Seattle.

To participate, passengers must pay $10 to $20 each. Also, their flights must be to a U.S. city on the same day their cruise ends with one of several airlines. Before getting off cruise ships, passengers are given boarding passes, luggage tags and claim checks, while their bags are driven to the airport.

SMALL BUSINESS DEADLINE EXTENDED FOR STORM LOANS

The U.S. Small Business Administration said Wednesday that the deadline to file low-interest disaster loan applications for physical damages as a result of Hurricane Wilma has been extended until Jan. 5, 2006.

Funds from SBA disaster loans may be used to cover the amount of the deductible for hurricane victims who have insurance, and may cover some or all of the uninsured losses for victims who do not have insurance, the SBA said.

SBA low-interest disaster loans are available to qualified renters, homeowners, landlords, business owners and non-profit organizations.

BEVERAGES FIRM DECLARES CASH DIVIDEND

Fort Lauderdale-based National Beverage Corp. (FIZ) said that its board of directors has declared a special cash dividend of $1 per share. The dividend will be payable on Jan. 27, 2006 to shareholders of record at the close of business on Jan. 5, 2006.

National Beverage produces soft drinks, bottled waters and juice products.

AIRLINES CONTINENTAL WILL REPLACE EXPRESSJET

Continental Airlines (CAL) plans to take back 69 small jets from ExpressJet Holdings (XJT), its biggest commuter-airline partner, and seek a lower-cost operator for the planes.

Shares of ExpressJet fell $2.31, or 22 percent, to close at $8.32.

The aircraft account for 25 percent of the 274 regional jets that ExpressJet contracts to fly for Continental. Continental said that it expects to shift the 69 planes to a new operator starting in January 2007.

Continental now uses ExpressJet, its former unit that became a separate company in 2002, for all of its regional-jet service.

SERVICES SUNAIR REPORTS A QUARTERLY LOSS

Fort Lauderdale-based Sunair Services Corp. (SNR) on Wednesday reported a fourth quarter loss of $369,101 or 4 cents a share, compared to a profit of $222,907 or 6 cents a share in the same period of the previous year.

Fourth quarter revenue rose 248.6 percent to $13.7 million.

For the fiscal year, Sunair reported net income of $595,552 or 8 cents per share, compared to $1.1 million or 30 cents per share for the previous fiscal year. Revenue was $31.5 million, up 218.2 percent.

Sunair is involved in lawn and pest control services, high-frequency radio and telephone communications.

TOURISM ORANGE COUNTY SEEKS MORE BED TAXES

Lawyers for Florida's Orange County plan to ask a judge to clarify a tax law that could allow the county to collect more tourist taxes from online hotel bookings.

Companies such as Expedia.com and Orbitz.com currently purchase or reserve blocks of rooms from hotels, often at lower rates. The Internet companies pay tourist taxes based on the reduced prices, but then they resell the same rooms to online customers at marked-up costs.

Orange County officials have said that the online businesses should be paying taxes on the marked-up prices.

The online businesses, however, have said that the final price they charge online customers reflects additional services, costs and profits added to the room rate, which should not be subject to a bed tax.

PACKAGE DELIVERY BOARD REJECTS UPS PILOTS' REQUEST

The National Mediation Board on Wednesday rejected a bid by pilots for UPS (UPS) to be released from federal mediation over contract talks with the company. The pilots union had threatened to go on strike within 30 days, if the request had been granted.

The union said the board's decision does not decrease the likelihood of a strike, while the company said it believes the two sides can still resolve their differences in mediation.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, the pilots can't strike while under federal mediation. The board's action followed last week's decision by the federal mediator overseeing the negotiations to call for an indefinite recess.

RETAIL BOCA RATON FIRM COMPLETES MERGER

ShopKo Stores said Wednesday it has completed its merger with an affiliate of Boca Raton-based Sun Capital Partners.

ShopKo Stores will continue to operate 137 ShopKo stores, 216 Pamida stores and three ShopKo Express Rx stores, in 22 states primarily in the Midwest, Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions.

ShopKo Stores said it will continue to function as an independent company.

MOVERS COLUMN PROMOTIONS MOVE TO BUSINESS MONDAY

Starting Monday, news of high-level promotions will move from the daily Business section to the Movers column in Business Monday.

Send information, including full title of position, new responsibilities, a phone number and previous position held by e-mail to

movers@herald.com.

Photos should be in jpeg format.

Miami Herald


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