The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 3, 2000


This week: Canada calls in a hockey referee to handle passenger complaints; Oakland airport grows as an alternative to San Francisco; straight talk about Concorde; flights to South America disappear; dealing with United's declining service; and a weekend coupon deal from Comair.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: No High Sticking in the Aisles, Please!
Desperate times require desperate measures. Fed up with the deterioration of service at Air Canada since it gobbled up Canadian Airlines last year, the Canadian government has turned for help to the ultimate Canadian symbol of authority: a hockey referee. On Tuesday, Canadian transport minister David Collenette appointed former National Hockey League referee Bruce Hood to the newly created post of "Air Travel Complaints Commissioner." The exact legal authority of Hood is unclear, but he immediately whistled Air Canada for a metaphoric penalty. "There's no communication, there's all kind of aggravation," he said of Canada's near-monopoly carrier. "That's the type of thing we're really going to go after."

AIRPORT REPORT: Oakland Grows as an SFO Alternative
Oakland airport continues to grow as a transcontinental alternative to San Francisco International across the bay. Just days after JetBlue began low-fare night service to Oakland from its New York/Kennedy hub, Continental launched twice-daily flights from its Newark hub.…Two underserved airports, Kansas City and New Orleans, got more direct service this week when low-fare Vanguard Airlines began twice-daily flights between the two cities.…Is Sydney airport ready for next month's influx of passengers headed for the Summer Olympics Games? Maybe not. The airport suffered its second power outage in less than a month earlier this week.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Straight Talk about Concorde
Ten days have passed since 113 people died in the fatal crash of an Air France Concorde shortly after take off from Paris. And, unfortunately, there's been an unprecedented amount of ill-informed speculation and misleading statements surrounding the crash of the world's only supersonic commercial transport. For starters, dismiss the publicly-discussed scenarios about the cause of the crash. It will take months to sort through the facts. Virtually nothing we know about the ill-fated plane's fuel pumps and tanks, engines and tires has been placed in its proper context. Secondly, ignore the absurd rhetoric that labels Concorde either the "safest" or "most dangerous" plane in the skies. It is true that this was the first fatal crash in Concorde's 30-year history, an unmatched chronological feat. But it is also true that the lightly-flown Concorde now has the world's highest passenger fatality rate per million flights. In other words, applying traditional chronological and statistical measures to Concorde is meaningless because the plane is unique and its usage pattern is unprecedented. Lastly, will the mainstream media please stop calling Concorde the "power plane" of well-to-do frequent flyers? The entire worldwide schedule of Concorde is exactly three daily roundtrips (two by British Airways between New York and London and the currently suspended Air France service between New York and Paris). All other Concorde flights are charters used to shuttle leisure flyers like the unfortunate travelers who died last week in Paris.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The expansion of airline service to South America is beginning to collapse in on itself. American Airlines is dropping its four weekly flights between Orlando and São Paulo, Brazil, on September 6. Airline executives said they had "no alternative" because low traffic makes the route unprofitable. The same paucity of passengers had led Continental Airlines to drop its flights to Santiago, Chile, and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, from its hubs in Newark and Houston. The routes were launched only five weeks ago.…Four small airlines in the Caribbean have agreed to merge. The carriers, Air Martinique, Air Guadeloupe, Air St. Martin and Air Caraibes, have adopted the Air Caraibes name.…Vanguard will begin placing advertisements on the doors of its carry-on bins. ...With United setting records for major-carrier ineptitude and about half its flights running late, readers have their own suggestions for dealing with the nation's largest airline. This one from a frequent flyer in Denver who requested anonymity. "After four miserable roundtrips on United in July, I told my wife, 'Let's act like United's on strike, because, as a practical matter, it is.'"

WEEKLY WONDER: Comair on the Cheap on the Weekends
Comair, the commuter-carrier subsidiary of Delta that hubs in Cincinnati, offers a "Weekend Traveler" plan. For $299, you receive a booklet of four flight coupons valid for travel Saturdays and Sundays and until noon on Mondays. Each coupon is valid for one flight segment and they are surprisingly flexible: They are transferable; they can be used virtually anywhere Comair flies; and they are valid during most holiday periods. The downside: Weekend Traveler flights don't earn Delta SkyMiles, seats are limited, and taxes add a total of $22 to the booklet price. For more details, call Comair at 800-354-9822.

This column originally appeared at

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