The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 11 TO MARCH 25, 2004


This week: signs of improvement in domestic first class; fares rise, gingerly; new airports and new airport services appear; no-fly alternatives for business travelers; new hotels in fascinating places; a security update; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Signs of Life in First Class
Just when things looked bleakest for domestic first-class service, a spate of unrelated events has brightened the picture. Best news: AirTran says it will abandon regional jets on all of its routes. Beginning in July, all RJ routes currently served by AirTran JetConnect, a commuter operation, will switch to mainline AirTran service using Boeing 717s equipped with business-class cabins. Meanwhile, United Airlines is upgrading its first-class meal service. Effective immediately, hot meals have replaced cold ones on all lunch and dinner flights longer than 2.5 hours. And effective April 1, mixed nuts return before first-class meals. (Hey, take what you can get...). Lastly, about 200 flights from the American Airlines' Dallas/Fort Worth hub will receive more snacks and upgraded meal service in first class. The American upgrades also begin April 1. But what AA gives in first, it takes away in coach. Back-of-the-bus flyers on those Dallas flights--mostly to California and the Northwest--will lose their Bistro Bag of carry-on snacks.

AIRPORT REPORT: New Airports and New Airport Services
Wireless Internet service has been introduced at Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland. The service will be free until the end of June. ... A new airport has opened in central Taiwan. At the moment, it only handles domestic flights and is far from complete. ... Borders, the bookstore chain, says it expects to open as many as a dozen new airport shops in the next year. The chain is also converting five Waldenbooks outlets to the Borders name. A new Borders outlet will open in Las Vegas this month; another will open in Washington/Dulles this summer. ... The Chinese government says a new airport in Guangzhou will open on schedule in June.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: There Are Some No-Fly Alternatives
Even as you're reading this, I'm on Amtrak, wending my way between New York and West Virginia, a 21-hour roundtrip that I hope I can describe in future as "charming." Either way, I'll let you know. I'm taking a train trip because I refused to give US Airways almost $1,000 roundtrip, even though I was willing to buy in advance and stay over on a Saturday. Besides, the pricey US Airways service would have been on a combination of turboprops and regional jets and it wasn't markedly faster door-to-door than the train, either. So for $160 roundtrip on Amtrak, I assume I'm enjoying a comfy ride, a plug-in for my laptop and the ability to use my cell phone. All of which is my roundabout way of mentioning a new high-speed ferry, the Spirit of Ontario, which will connect Toronto and Rochester, New York. Service is due to launch in May. The transborder ride across Lake Ontario will take about two hours and 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Limoliner, the luxury bus service that connects downtown Boston and midtown Manhattan in four hours, is launching a seven-day schedule. Effective March 15, the service, priced at $69 each way, will operate three times daily on weekdays and once a day on Saturday and Sunday.

FARE WATCH: Prices Rise, Gingerly and Tactically
After blocking a Continental-led fare increase two weeks ago, Northwest Airlines went along with a price increase on some fares initiated last week by ATA Airlines. Most other carriers then followed suit. That's a $5 each way bump on ATA routes. There was also a second fare increase last week when Delta Air Lines effectively raised prices by up to $9 roundtrip on connecting service. Delta managed the increase by ending the practice of paying passenger-facility charges at connecting airports. Other carriers have gone along on competing routes.

IN THE LOBBY: Name Changes and New Openings
Downtown Detroit gets its first new hotel in what seems like eons. A 198-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened in the Harmonie Park neighborhood. Opening rates start at $99 a night. The property offers 27 suites, a swimming pool and fitness center, two restaurants and valet parking. ... Meanwhile, Conrad, the luxury division of Hilton, has opened a 313-room beachfront resort in Bali. ... A 299-room Sheraton has opened in Hanoi. ... The Palais de la Mediterranee has opened in Nice. The 188-room property overlooking the beach is operated by Concorde. The hotel is housed in a renovated Art Deco casino originally built in the 1930s. ... The huge Radisson hotel at the entrance to the Universal theme park in Orlando has been reflagged as a Doubletree Hotel. The 742-room, twin-towered property will undergo a $14 million renovation. Speaking of Doubletree, Johnson & Wales University has purchased the Doubletree Hotel - Charlotte Gateway Village. Expect your service from students because the hotel will be staffed by kids from J&W, which specializes in culinary and lodging curriculum.

SECURITY WATCH The 'Unspeakable Evil' in Madrid
Security agencies are still sifting through evidence trying to figure out who's to blame for the horrendous bombings on Thursday (March 11) in Madrid. As of Thursday evening, at least 190 people were confirmed dead and more than 1,200 injured after 10 bombs exploded on Madrid's commuter trains. The Spanish government immediately blamed ETA, a Basque separatist group. But later evidence suggested at least the possibility that the attacks were tied to Al Queda. British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke for the entire civilized world when he called the acts "unspeakable evil." ... Northwest Airlines has rejected claims that it violated passenger privacy by turning over customer records to government agencies tied to the development of CAPPS II, the Transportation Security Administration's controversial passenger-screening program. The airline is already facing several class-action suits. ... The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) says that TSA employees have the highest injury rate of all federal workers. The injury rate for TSA workers is almost four times the federal average. OSHA says injuries include back strain, cuts, bumps and even broken bones, most of them caused by carrying or moving passenger suitcases. ... Travelers with medical implants are five times more likely to be delayed at security since 9/11, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

This column originally appeared at

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