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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 20 TO DECEMBER 27, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: A 60-day strike countdown at United; how AirTran drives down fares in Delta territory; LAX restores curbside service; 11 planes were off course or out of touch on 9/11; airlines continue to shuffle schedules; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Set Your United Strike Clock to 60 Days
A federally mandated 30-day "cooling off" period between United and its mechanics ends on Friday, December 21, and then mechanics will be legally free to strike. But don't panic--at least not yet. The White House has already stated it will step in Friday and delay a strike for 60 days by creating a Presidential Emergency Board. But since United and the mechanics are not talking, and don't seem close to agreement on a wide range of contract issues, chances for a strike come February 21 seem fairly good. At that point, only an act of Congress could avert a strike if the two sides have not struck a deal. So, set your 60-day clock and keep February 21 in mind as you plan your travel for the first quarter of 2002.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: What Happens When Fares Drop by 89 Percent
The next time some wise guy peddling the conventional wisdom tells you that alternate carriers aren't changing the face of air travel, point them in the direction of Gary Topping. Founder of TuscanHouse.com, which rents extraordinary villas, apartments and country homes in Italy, Topping is a frequent flyer between Atlanta and Pensacola, Florida. He was also a prisoner of Delta, until recently the sole carrier on that 272-mile route. "But I took my first flight on AirTran, which has just started Atlanta-Pensacola service," Topping told me last week. "The check-in staff was professional, complete with smiles and greetings. The aircraft was clean and on-time. The in-flight crew was glad to see the passengers and they even threw in free drinks on the return flight." What did it cost? "My Atlanta-Pensacola fare on AirTran was $101 roundtrip," says Topping. "It used to cost me $946 on Delta."

CONNECTIONS: Airport News You Need to Know
More than three months after the incidents of September 11, Los Angeles International has finally reopened all the roads in front of the airport terminals. Curbside passenger drop-off and pick-up has ow resumed, but vehicles entering the central terminal area are still subject to search. The temporary passenger drop-off facility opened after September 11 has been closed. US Airways has opened a new club at Raleigh-Durham. The 3,300-square-foot facility is located across from Gate 21, just inside the security checkpoint. Hertz is now offering chauffeured Lincoln Town Car service in 110 cities in North America. The airport-to-city or point-to-point service is available through an arrangement with Carey International. ... LanChile has opened a lavish VIP lounge at Santiago International. The facility has 12 workstations equipped with personal computers, meeting rooms and shower rooms. The lounge is named after Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Way We Traveled
James Likeks, a Minnesota journalist and connoisseur of American pop culture, has just published a hilarious new book called The Gallery of Regrettable Food. It lampoons some of the less-appealing recipes from old cookbooks and advertising promotions. His charming Website, Lileks.com is much more appetizing. It features a whimsically illustrated section on the American motel and contains a hundred or so postcards from the era before chain brands owned the highway. His "Good Eats" section has 1950s and 1960s restaurant photos. This, fellow flyers, is how we once traveled!

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Why the Skies Were Closed on September 11
Eleven commercial airliners were off course or out of communication in the minutes after the attacks on the World Trade Center. That is what led to the unprecedented shutdown of the nation's airspace on September 11, according to a report in this week's edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. After the second of two hijacked planes smashed into New York's Twin Towers at 9:03 a.m., federal air-traffic officials asked for an update on nationwide conditions. Eleven planes were reported off course or out of touch, prompting government officials to close the skies at 9:26 a.m. "We just thought, OK, enough is enough, let's keep [all other planes] on the ground and see what we've got," the magazine was told by Linda Schussler, manager of tactical operations at the Federal Aviation Administration's air-traffic control center in Herndon, Virginia. Two of the 11 missing aircraft were subsequently identified as American Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon at 9:41 a.m., and United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m. The magazine says the Federal Aviation Administration has refused to provide further information on the other nine flights.

ON THE FLY: You Can't Tell The Schedules Without a Scorecard
The airlines continue to shuffle services and flights with dizzying speed. US Airways hasn't confirmed it, but their schedules show the airline will eliminate Philadelphia-Brussels service on February 1. Qantas will restore its three weekly New York/Kennedy-Sydney flights on February 17. The service, which operates via Los Angeles, was dropped in the days immediately after September 11. Buzz, KLM's low-fare European carrier, is adding nine new routes between its London/Stansted hub and France on March 31. Continental will restore daily nonstop flights between its Cleveland hub and London/Gatwick on April 15.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.