The Tactical Traveler



This week: More service woes at United; our weekly look at North America's alternate airlines; Diners Club creates a new charge card; labor strife threatens Delta and Northwest; TWA and America West forge a code-share deal; and a bundle of great deals around the world.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: United Heads Back Into the Tank
United Airlines was making some progress restoring normal service after its unprecedented spring and summer meltdown, but ongoing contract disputes with mechanics and flight attendants are sending the airline's performance back into the tank. United has canceled upwards of 100 flights a day in recent weeks. That's about four percent of its daily schedule, almost twice the rate of other major airlines and six times the cancellation rate at Southwest Airlines. Coupled with the airline's dreary on-time rating--at 71.6 percent in September, United was last in the nation for the sixth consecutive month--the cancellations and labor unrest raise the specter of a dreadful holiday period for the nation's largest and least reliable carrier. By the way, customers continue to book away from United in reaction to the airline's problems. United's North American traffic in October tumbled 6 percent, the fourth consecutive monthly decline.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: News About North America's Other Carriers
ProAir, which was grounded in September, may be back in the air as early as January. The 3-year-old carrier is based at Detroit/City Airport. Airline officials and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed on Monday to a 75-day process that could lead to the reinstatement of ProAir's operating certificate. Indigo, which flies 8-seat corporate jets between Chicago/Midway and New York/Teterboro, is now offering online booking at its website. A one-way ticket currently costs $629 plus taxes. WestJet will launch service at Fort McMurray, Alberta, on January 8. There will be one daily flight to Edmonton and twice-daily service to Calgary; fares start at $79 one-way. Allegiant Air, which flies DC-9s between California and Nevada, has begun serving beer, wine and liquor. Royal Airlines now flies eight nonstops between Toronto and Montreal from Monday through Friday.

EARLY WARNINGS: Labor Strife Threatens Delta and Northwest
Labor woes are heating up at Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines and the big losers, as usual, could be passengers. Envious of both the new contract United pilots landed and the tactics the United pilots used to get that contract, some Delta pilots are beginning to turn down overtime assignments. That was the strategy United pilots used to bring United to its proverbial knees this summer and it could work at Delta, too. Why? As much as 5 percent of Delta's daily flight schedule is handled by pilots voluntarily accepting overtime assignments. Meanwhile, over at Northwest, mechanics have been working without a contract for several years. Now, however, the mechanics are about to ask the National Mediation Board to release them from federally mandated mediation so they can strike. Needless to say, you should monitor both situations carefully in the coming weeks as you make decisions on which carriers to book.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
TWA and America West announced a code-sharing agreement on Wednesday. Pending government approval, the arrangement begins during the first quarter. TWA will put its "TW" code on America West flights to 84 cities while America West will put its "HP" code on TWA flights to 61 destinations. In case you hadn't noticed, flights in Europe are suffering through the same debilitating delays as U.S. service. According to the trade association of European carriers, 32.2 percent of flights arrived more than 15 minutes late in July, 23.8 percent were late in August, and 30.4 percent arrived late in September. American Eagle, the commuter carrier of American Airlines, has now converted all its flights to and from Chicago/O'Hare to regional jet service. ... Diners Club, a favorite of business travelers, is launching a new charge card to compete with the $300-a-year American Express Platinum card. The Diners Club Carte Blanche card is rolling out on a selective basis, but you can cop a sneak peek and a application at the Carte Blanche website. The new card bears virtually no resemblance to the old Carte Blanche and will cost $300 a year. Key benefits include one free British Airways companion ticket every year, free international cell-phone rentals, and access to more than 200 golf courses worldwide. Existing Diners Club benefits--including free access to 80 airport lounges, excellent travel insurance, the Club Rewards frequent-travel plan, and a discount-dining program--will also extend to Carte Blanche cardholders.

WEEKLY WONDERS: Great Bargains Around the World
RentExpress is offering a special price on an international wireless phone that operates in 100 countries. For $139, you get a Nokia 5110 handset, battery, recharger and foreign-plug adapters. A one-year "World Service" subscription that includes a permanent international phone number for the handset costs $49.95. The US Airways frequent-flyer program, Dividend Miles, now offers 100 miles for each round of golf played on participating courses. The program is administered by Leading Golf Courses of America; the annual fee is $95, but travelers receive 3,000 miles for enrolling by February 28. For more information, call 888-843-5422 and use code KGK435. Austrian Airlines (800-843-0002) has extended the purchase deadline on its low-priced flights to Austria. You can now buy tickets until December 16 and pay as little as $438 roundtrip from New York/Kennedy; $478 from Washington/Dulles; and $518 from Chicago/O'Hare. Fares are for midweek travel until March 29. Battered by declining traffic due to the unrest in the Middle East, El Al has slashed airfares for members of its frequent-flyer program. "H" class travel to Tel Aviv is available for $299 roundtrip from Kennedy or New York/Newark; $375 from Miami or O'Hare; and $449 from Los Angeles. Tickets must be purchased by March 8 for travel by March 23.

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