The Tactical Traveler

FOR OCTOBER 12, 2000


This week: United pays the financial price for its dreary service; our weekly update on alternative and low-fare carriers; a web site to research on-time performance; American and USAirways end their frequent-flyer deal; America West continues to tank; American rebuilds in San Jose and TWA contracts in New York; and South African Airways puts African travel on sale.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: United Inherits the Wind
United Airlines spent most of the spring and the summer denying it had any problems. Then it thought it could buy off travelers with a smarmy apology and some bonus miles. But now the airline is inheriting the wind for its service collapse and deceptions. Domestic traffic plummeted more than 10 percent in September following a 12 percent decline in August. The airline admits it lost money in the third quarter as travelers booked away. Moreover, it is warning it may suffer a fourth-quarter loss as well. "We're getting hammered," one glum United executive told me this week. "We've had very little success convincing corporate travelers to return." By the way, according to Transportation Department figures released last week, United managed only a 43.7 percent on-time rating in August. That's 25 percentage points below the industry average. A staggering 29 percent of its flights arrived late more than 70 percent of the time; that's about five times the industry average. It also canceled about 8 percent of its scheduled flight in August, more than twice the industry average of 3.4 percent.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: More Flights and Service from the Other Guys
AirTran, the low-fare specialists whose Atlanta hub makes it Delta Air Lines' most effective competitor in the South, has signed an "interline" deal with the Atlanta behemoth and four other carriers. Interlining permits AirTran to issue joint tickets, make baggage transfers and arrange for ticketing on other carriers if its own flights are canceled or delayed. Separately, AirTran has launched a fare sale for travel by February 12. Prices start as low as $42 one way; roundtrip tickets must be purchased by October 17 and require a 7-day advance purchase. Aloha Airlines, the excellent Hawaii-based carrier, will extend its mainland flights to Las Vegas in February. The Las Vegas service will be an extension of Aloha's current Honolulu-Oakland and Maui-Oakland flights. Both flights will offer coach and first-class cabins. Speaking of Las Vegas, National Airlines, the casino-funded start-up, says it will launch two daily nonstops to Chicago/O'Hare on January 25. Advance-purchase roundtrips start at $298; unrestricted coach at $376 one-way; and first-class fares at $526 one-way.

CYBERTRAVELER: Our Life and Times, Statistically Speaking
Have you wondered exactly how bad our lives and times on the road really are? Until recently, it was almost impossible to tell. But a stunningly good database of on-time statistics is now available on the Web []. You can search for Transportation Department on-time statistics based on origin and destination airports; by day, week, month or a specific range of dates; by the city pairs of your choice; by specific airline and even by specific flights. The data goes as far back as 1997.

AIRPORT REPORT: TWA Contracts (Again); American Discovers San Jose (Again)
The once-vaunted TWA European network from New York's Kennedy Airport is contracting again. TWA said last week it would drop service to Lisbon and Milan in January. In their place will be flights from TWA's hub in St. Louis to Frankfurt and service between Miami and San Juan. American Airlines took a run at building a hub in San Jose, California, a decade ago, then dropped it when the travel environment turned sour several years later. But American is building again in the Silicon Valley. In April, it will begin nonstop flights from San Jose to Paris and Taipei, Taiwan. This service is in addition to the airline's previously announced plans to fly to Miami and Maui on December 15. Locked out of London/Heathrow by the U.S.-British aviation treaty, Continental Airlines has built service elsewhere in Britain, including London/Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. Now Continental will even fly to Stansted, London's distant third airport. The daily flight from Continental's Newark hub will launch next May.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines and US Airways are parting company. The partnership between frequent-flyer plans and the reciprocal club-lounge privileges will end next August. Bonus miles on US Airways Shuttle flights will end on December 31. Look for lots of construction at Baltimore/Washington and Houston/Intercontinental airports. Both facilities have received approval for multi-year expansion plans. United's unconscionable performance this summer has diverted attention from the continuing dreary operations at America West. According to Transportation Department figures released last week, America West ran four of every ten flights late in August. It racked up an industry-high mishandled baggage rate of 8.16 per thousand passengers, and generated a passenger-complaint rate of 9.59, more than twice the industry average.

WEEKLY WONDER: African Flying at a Deep Discount
South African Airways (800-772-1005) has cut the price of traveling to Africa. For $1,099 roundtrip, for example, travelers can fly to Johannesburg from New York/Kennedy or Atlanta. For another $100, travelers can fly beyond South African's Johannesburg hub to four other African cities. For $1,299, South Africa will fly you as far as Nairobi, Kenya and three other destinations. Fares require a three-day advance purchase and a four-day minimum stay. Departures must take place by December 9 and travel must be completed by January 18.

This column originally appeared at

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