The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 10, 2000


This week: another miserable week to be a United customer; a new weekly feature on low-fare and alternate airlines; buying tickets on the Web for next month’s Olympic Games; KLM changes the rules on checked bags; and the truth about Amtrak’s new Acela high-speed train.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Another Agonizing Week at United
It’s been another bad week to be a United customer. The airline abruptly cancelled more than 300 flights on Saturday, about 250 on Sunday and at least 240 on Monday. Sunday’s cancellations were due in part to bad weather, but the other dropped flights were a result of the airline’s severe crew shortage and its inability to come to contract terms with disgruntled pilots. United’s reaction to its latest woes was typical: an official statement saying management was "agonized by the pain and suffering" inflicted on passengers; off-the-record comments shifting the blame for the airline’s collapse on the pilots; and the pre-emptive cancellation of about 3,900 flights in September and October. And rather than bring management’s full attention to bear on its current service problems, United instead chose to assign at least 20 top executives to a team planning for the proposed merger with USAirways. Leading the transition team? Chris Bowers, senior vice president of North America. He apparently has plenty of extra time on his hands now that United has canceled all those flights.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: New Coverage of Low-Fare Airlines
Beginning this week, I’ll present news about alternate and low-fare carriers in this space. This is in response to your requests for more information about airlines that offer lower fares and/or better service than the major U.S. carriers. … National Airlines will begin daily nonstop service between Washington/National airport and its Las Vegas hub on October 26. … JetBlue Airways will increase service to Florida from its New York/Kennedy hub this fall. Nonstop flights to West Palm Beach begin on October 18; service to Fort Myers launches on November 18. … Airtran Airways has launched a fare sale for travel through December 15. A seven-day advance purchase is required and tickets must be purchased by August 17. Fares range from $39 to $99 one way. … Midwest Express has a fare sale, too. Tickets must be purchased by midnight Central time tomorrow; a roundtrip, 14-day advance purchase and a Friday or Saturday stay is also required. Samples: $82 one-way between Milwaukee and Pittsburgh; $114 between Indianapolis and Boston; and $132 between Kansas City and San Antonio.

CYBERTRAVELER: Anyone Want Olympics Tickets?
Looks like the expected boom in travel to Sydney for the Summer Olympics won’t materialize. Both Ansett and Qantas have told Sydney airport authorities that they will be operating fewer flights during the Olympics than they did during the same time last year. And tickets for the Games, which begin September 15, aren't selling. Sales are so poor, in fact, that tickets are now available directly from the Olympics at its website. Tickets remain for most sports and venues, including U.S. favorites such as basketball and gymnastics. You can even score seats for both the opening and closing ceremonies. Prices for sporting events start at around US$10 and about US$70 for opening and closing ceremonies.

ANNALS OF BUSINESS TRAVEL: Diversions and Deceptions
Your life on the road could be worse: You could have been booked on American Airlines Flight 39 on August 1. Scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu, Flight 39 departed on time at 9 am, but turned back after several hours when one of the DC-10's engines lost power. American arranged for a second DC-10, but mechanical problems delayed its departure until 11:40pm. That plane developed engine trouble, too, and returned to San Francisco at 1:53 am Wednesday. … A Dutch court ruled last week that KLM must pay about US$2,000 for each piece of checked luggage that does not arrive at its destination at the same time as its owner. The court interpreted KLM's contract of carriage relating to timely arrival of bags as an "absolute commitment." KLM's solution? It has changed the rules for all future flights because it "cannot possibly guarantee" checked luggage will arrive with passengers. … Amtrak won't release on-time statistics for its new, high-speed Acela trains, so a reporter for The Wall Street Journal compiled his own by checking the Amtrak website and calling Amtrak customer service. The results? Between New York and Boston, more than 60 percent of the Acela trains operated during June and July didn't arrive on schedule. One in four of the 216 trips was more than 20 minutes late.

WEEKLY WONDER: An Artsy Deal in Chicago
The "Gallery 37" package at the Hotel Burnham (877-294-9712) in Chicago is $169 a night until October 31. The hotel is donating $37 of the room rate to Gallery 37, an organization that has created more than 15,000 jobs for Chicago-area apprentice artists aged 14 through 21. The Burnham opened last October and was carved out of Chicago's Reliance Building, a 105-year-old architectural landmark at Washington and State streets.

This column originally appeared at

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