The Tactical Traveler

FOR JULY 6, 2000


This week: prepare for long airport delays this summer; a website offers gasoline-economy tips; more on a possible Air Canada pilots strike; a follow-up on Sprint and mobile-phone service; and electronic-ticket discounts from Swissair and Sabena.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: A Long, Hot Airport Summer
You may have already noticed: It's going to be a long, hot summer at the airports around the country as airlines continue to pile up record delays on departures and arrivals. The reasons for the increased delays are legion: the air-traffic system is overloaded, but airlines continue to schedule new flights; the weather has been poor, with many serious thunderstorms; and record load factors are slowing down the boarding process. Is there any way to avoid the delays? Frankly, no. But there a few ways to minimize the pain. First, fly early in the morning. Early-morning flights are less likely to be delayed due to a bollix in the hub-and-spoke system. Early flying also avoids the worst of the summer storms. Also, accept the reality of delays. Adjust your on-the-ground schedule accordingly. Make sure you've got airport-club access everywhere you go. And keep your mobile-phone and laptop batteries fully charged.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Sprint and the Extra Charges
Last week's Brancatelli File column on mobile telephones drew E-mails from frequent-flying Sprint PCS customers, many of whom were incensed that I ignored what they believe to be a superior service. In response, I pointed out the obvious: I recommended that business travelers only consider calling plans that were free of long-distance and roaming charges and no Sprint plan hit the "no ups, no extras" standard. But Sprint PCS fans are a dedicated lot. Many insisted I was wrong, some claimed they had never paid roaming or long-distance charges, and still others believe Sprint PCS is so good that it doesn't matter. Trust me on the first one: Every published Sprint plan carries both roaming and long-distance fees. Here's the wording from the Sprint website: "The national roaming rate of 69 cents per minute applies. Long distance calls will be charged an additional 25 cents per minute." Part of the confusion among misinformed users may stem from the fact that Sprint PCS is digital and many Sprint phones do not operate--and thus cannot roam or pile up fees--on analog cell-phone systems. As for the other claim--Sprint is so good that the fees are worth paying--that's for you to evaluate. I always pay careful attention to the recommendation of fellow frequent flyers, but I'll also stick to my basic premise: Business travelers are best served by national plans that guarantee they do not charge extra fees.

VERBATIM: Jerry Speaks
Legendary adman Jerry Della Femina, he of the bald pate, sharp wit and Brooklyn accent, gets to vent pretty much wherever and whenever he wants. And when it came time to zing the airlines, Della Femina chose the op-ed page of Wednesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal. Among his observations: "I think a group of concerned travelers should approach the airlines and just surrender," he wrote. "It's useless for the consumer to fight Big Air. They have the planes, they have the destinations, and they appear to have the Federal Aviation Administration in their pockets. As a peace offering, I'll reveal how the [airlines] can squeeze even more of us on board. I suggest they rip out all the seats. They can install hooks on the ceiling. And if that isn't enough, I have another thought: When you're boarding a plane, the attendant who takes your ticket can also jab you in the buttocks with a sedative shot. This should knock you out for the duration of the flight."

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Gasoline prices have surged past $6 a gallon in Britain. I tell you that because it makes the domestic situation--where gas has topped $2 a gallon in the Midwest and is above $1.75 most everywhere else--a little more palatable. But if you need a more practical approach to the gasoline crunch of 2000, surf to the federal government's Fuel Economy site. There are dozens of useful tips for reducing the bite of increasing fuel prices. Many of the suggestions are old news, but it's been so long since we cared about the price of gas, we could all use the refresher course. ... Business travelers dodged a bullet last weekend when negotiations between Air Canada and its pilot union went into overtime and the pilots chose not to strike. After a union-requested recess, talks are scheduled to resume Friday, July 7. That means there'll be no strike until at least early next week. Under Canadian labor law, a union must give 72 hours notice before taking any strike action.

WEEKLY WONDER: Electronic Savings to Europe
Swissair (800-221-4750) and Sabena (800-955-2000) are promoting their E-ticket capacity by offering savings up to $600 roundtrip for flights until October 31. Full-fare business-class flyers who use E-tix receive $300 one-way and $600 roundtrip on departures from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles Newark, New York, and Washington. The discounts are valid to 28 European destinations. Certain coach customers receive an E-tix discount of $75 one-way and $150 roundtrip. Tickets must be purchased by August 1.

This column originally appeared at

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