The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 24, 2000


This week: The Transportation Secretary parties while the air system burns; our weekly update on alternate and low-fare carriers; the NTSB issues its report on TWA Flight 800; Sydney Airport's pre-Olympics jitters; the swank new rooms at a venerable London hotel; and we go back to the brink of a strike at Air Canada.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Your Tax Dollars at Work
While the nation's air-travel system was in chaos earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater was hard at work--schmoozing politicians, attending parties and mingling with the movie stars at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Upon his return to Washington this week, Slater hosted what the Transportation Department called "airline industry stakeholders" and he wouldn't let them out of his conference room until they agreed to play nice and create several more bureaucratic task forces. One new committee will consider "airline service quality performance" and Slater ordered a report in 90 days. Isn't that great news? After all, now we'll only have to wait three more months for Slater to find out what's wrong with the industry he's supposedly been regulating for the last three years.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Our Weekly Report on Low-Fare Carriers
Sun Country Airlines will launch twice-daily weekday flights between its Minneapolis hub and Chicago/O'Hare beginning October 11. Sun Country will use O'Hare's international terminal (Terminal 5). The "Travel America" sale from Frontier Airlines in Denver is valid for travel between August 31 and February 14. Sample prices: $59 one-way to Kansas City; $109 to Portland, Oregon; and $149 to New York/LaGuardia. A 14-day advance purchase is required; all tickets must be purchased by August 31. RootsAir, a new Canadian carrier partially backed by the Roots retail chain, now says it will not launch service until January. The airline had been promising inaugural flights as early as November. Two years after it was dedicated at a cost of more than $300 million, MidAmerica Airport finally has some passenger service. Located about 25 miles east of St. Louis, the airport is now being served by Pan American Airways. The low-fare carrier launched flights last week to Gary, Indiana, and Sanford, Florida, near Orlando.

CYBERTRAVELER: No Answers from the NTSB on TWA 800
The National Transportation Safety Board earlier this week released its long overdue report [] on the TWA Flight 800 tragedy. The results, as expected, are a bureaucratic dodge: The NTSB admits it couldn't discover what caused the B-747's center fuel tanks to explode four years ago, but it contemptuously dismisses any one or any organization that dissents from the official non-findings. "A small number of people, pursuing their own agendas, have persisted in making unfounded charges," snarled NTSB Chairman Jim Hall. "They do a disservice to us all."

IN THE LOBBY: Something New at London's Grande Dame
Every since it reopened in 1991, London's Langham Hilton (800-HILTONS) has been a favorite of media types and a popular haunt for business travelers who like its location between Oxford Street and Regents Park. Now there's something new at the Grande Dame that first opened in 1865: 47 rooms and suites dubbed "Concierge Club." Each newly decorated Club room is comfortably appointed with cherry wood furniture, Frette bed linens, Penthaligon toiletries and spacious, marble bathrooms. A large work desk is outfitted with a two-line phone, high-speed data connections and desk-level power points. Club guests have access to a private lounge that serves continental breakfast, cocktails and snacks. One other note: The Langham's main restaurant, Memories, may have the best wine list in London. That's because the hotel's general manager, Jean-Pierre Mainardi, has a masters in oenology and personally stocks French vintages unavailable elsewhere in England. As with anything in London, however, all this luxury doesn't come cheap. Rates for a Concierge Club room start at about $450 a night.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Talks between Air Canada and is pilots broke down again last weekend after almost two weeks of intense, mediated negotiations. The pilots' contract expired in April and they voted to strike on June 26. Both sides now say they will wait until August 29 before announcing their intentions. Under Canadian law, however, pilots must give 72 hours notice before striking or engaging in any kind of job action. In the event of a strike at Air Canada, the airline's regional carriers and its Canadian Airlines subsidiary would continue to fly. ... Know those signs at airport X-ray machines around the nation warning that Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, is unsafe? Now there's finally something to worry about. After a six-year service gap, South African Airways will link Lagos and the United States. SAA will offer three weekly nonstops beginning October 29. Just weeks before the beginning of the Summer Olympic Games, Sydney Airport suffered another meltdown last weekend. A three-month old, $25 million baggage system malfunctioned again, leading to dozens of delays and a pile of lost bags. It was the fifth baggage breakdown at Sydney this month and comes on the heels of air-traffic control problems, security scares and power-supply glitches. Washington/Dulles and Baltimore/Washington are the world's fastest-growing airports, according to data compiled IATA, the global airline cartel. Passenger traffic at Dulles grew 25.8 percent last year and BWI traffic grew 16.2 percent. Rounding out the top five are Seoul (traffic up 13.6 percent), Paris/Charles de Gaulle (up 12.9 percent) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (up 12.7 percent).

This column originally appeared at

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