The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 11, 2000


This week: The computer as front-seat rental-car driver; using cellphones as an alternative to hotel-room phones; global intelligence from a new Web site; how business travel changes our taste buds; US Airways offers its first international first-class seats on the new Airbus A330; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Computer as Front-Seat Driver
After years of resistance, I finally rented a car equipped with the Hertz NeverLost system, the $6-a-day computer/satellite-guidance option available on many vehicles. The system is nestled on the dashboard between the driver and passenger seats and features voice prompts and a color display monitor. The system is a technological miracle, and thus difficult to criticize, but it is not perfect. It sometimes gets confused: on a recent Florida trip NeverLost insisted I had driven into the Inter-Coastal Waterway and once insistently demanded I turn onto a street on which I was already driving. There are also some quirks: NeverLost doesn't provide general driving directions and maps to an area, only specific instructions and mapping for a specified street address; it often prompts you to "proceed to the designated route" without showing you how to get there; and often has difficulty "acquiring" the signal of the navigational satellites. But NeverLost also has many good points: the voice prompts are clear and allows you to keep your eyes on the road; it identifies streets by both their commonly used and official names; and it gives you clear and unambiguous directions back to the airport and the rental-return area, which is often the most difficult part of a business trip.

IN THE LOBBY: The Wireless Hotel-Calling Alternative
Fed up with the high fees hotels now charge to make a phone call from a guest-room telephone? Consider an alternative: your own wireless phone equipped with a nationwide flat-rate calling plan. Until recently, costly roaming, long-distance and air-time fees made wireless phones a luxury on the road. Not anymore. Most of the major wireless phone companies now have flat-rate calling plans that eliminate all the fees. The AT&T Digital One Rate plan, for example, starts at $60 a month while Nextel's all-inclusive plan starts at about $70 a month and the Verizon Single Rate program start as low as $35. Besides operating as an alternative to your hotel-room phone, using your wireless handset on the road allows you to give everyone a single telephone number to reach you wherever you travel.

CYBERTRAVELER: Global Intelligence, Intelligently Presented
Business travelers seeking insight into global political and economic conditions traditionally rely on the CIA World Fact Book. But a new site, CountryWatch, offers an extraordinary alternative. There is an impressive array of information on 191 countries, all of it easily accessible and extremely well organized. The site's best feature: a steady stream of breaking news from a variety of sources about the selected country. This integration of the news, dovetailed with the statistical basics and the easy-to-use format, makes CountryWatch a "must-bookmark" site.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Does business travel affect what we eat? Of course. Most of us struggle with on-the-run meals, high fat consumption and other dietary problems when we're on the road. But it seems that business travel also affects what we eat when we aren't traveling. In highlighting its "top 10 flavors" for 2000, McCormick & Company, the spice merchant, suggests that the 20-year upswing in spice consumption is directly related to travel. "It's travel and tasting, the shrinking of the globe and the disappearing of national borders," says cookbook author Steven Raichlen. Business executives "experience street food, markets, restaurants and really absorb a cuisine when traveling," adds Chicago chef Rick Tramonto. By the way, if you're interested, McCormick's top ten flavors for 2000 are basil, dill, red pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, fennel, rosemary, cumin, ginger and thyme. ... Speaking of on-the-road dining, Loews Hotels has added high-protein, low-carbohydrate menu items in restaurants at the chain's 15 hotels. The menu change is designed to accommodate travelers using this year's hot diet, which restricts carbs and stresses protein. US Airways has begun deploying Airbus A330 planes on international routes from Philadelphia. The aircraft offer the airline's first-ever international first-class cabins as well as the carrier's familiar Envoy business class. The coach cabin is divided into two sections: the front offers seats with 33 inches of pitch and the rear section offers seats with 34 inches of legroom. Meanwhile, American Airlines says about 50 percent of its domestic fleet has now been reconfigured with added legroom. The airline also announced it was expanding the seat pitch on most of its business-class cabins to 60 inches.

WEEKLY WONDER: Two for the Price of One to Asia
Cathay Pacific, the superlative Hong Kong-based carrier, is offering a free companion ticket for travelers who buy a full-fare business-class seat from New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. The offer is valid on transpacific flights to Hong Kong and onward connections to Bali, Bangkok, Manila or Singapore. The deal is available Sunday through Thursday from June 1 to September 15 when you pay with an American Express card. For complete details, consult the Cathay site.

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