The Tactical Traveler



This week: More questions about America West; two low-fare carriers fly into Pittsburgh; British Airways slashes service at London/Gatwick; McDonald's jumps into the hotel business; Amtrak finally launches its high-speed Acela Express rail service (sort of); and international airlines plan a raft of new flights.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Is America West Safe to Fly?
We've covered the serious maintenance and performance issues at America West throughout the last 18 months, but the din around the troubled carrier has reached ear-splitting pitch with the publication of a blistering article in the current issue of US News & World Report. America West officials were apoplectic when the story broke, but the underlying doubts about the carrier remain. The Federal Aviation Administration has monitored the airline for more than a year and found a consistent pattern of lax oversight, high management turnover and questionable operational procedures. The carrier recently submitted a "good plan for resolving their problems," an FAA spokesman told Reuters last week. "Now America West has to prove by early next year it can do what it said it would do."

ALTERNATE AGENDA: A Weekly Update on the Nation's Other Carriers
National Airlines, the 18-month-old carrier based in Las Vegas, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The airline says it will continue flying all its routes and proceed with expansion plans during its reorganization. Pittsburgh is suddenly on the route maps of two alternative carriers. Midway Airlines launches four daily flights from its Raleigh-Durham hub today, December 14. And AirTran Airways on Tuesday began flying from Pittsburgh to New York/LaGuardia, Chicago/Midway, and its Atlanta/Hartsfield hub. AirTran has announced introductory one-way fares of $39 (for the three daily roundtrips to both New York and Chicago) and $54 (for the twice-daily Atlanta service). Tickets must be purchased by December 19 for travel through March 14; a seven-day advance purchase is required.

AIRPORT REPORT: What's New and Notable Around the World
Comair, the commuter carrier that flies as the Delta Connection, now operates an all-jet fleet at its main hub in Cincinnati. British Airways is abandoning its costly attempt to make London/Gatwick a long-haul transfer hub. Most African flights will be transferred back to London/Heathrow and at least a half-dozen other long-haul routes from Gatwick will be eliminated. The cuts, about 40 percent of BA's capacity at Gatwick, will not affect flights to or from North America. French authorities say a third Paris airport will be built. Target completion date: 2012. Amsterdam/Schiphol airport will undergo a $1.2 billion expansion during the next four years. Sabena has suspended service to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. A Sabena flight landing there last week was hit by machine-gun fire. One passenger and a crew member were injured.

IN THE LOBBY: A Double Room and Large Fries, Please
It was probably inevitable: Following in the corporate footsteps of Howard Johnson and Marriott, fast-food behemoth McDonald's is branching out into hotels. McDonald's Swiss partner, which operates more than 100 restaurants around Switzerland, is building the world's first two "Golden Arch" hotels. Both should open during the first quarter; one is located near Zurich Airport and the other is under construction in the village of Lully. Prices will start at about $90 a night and McDonald's claims its target audiences are business travelers during the week and families on weekdays. Will there be drive-thru check-in? Want to know if you get fries with every room-service order? Or if there is room service at all? Check it all out for yourself at the new Golden Arch hotel website.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Amtrak Finally Gets Acela on Track (Sort of)
Amtrak has finally put its controversial, and much delayed, Acela Express high-speed train into scheduled service on the heavily traveled corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. But the results after the first two days of service are definitely mixed. The inaugural Acela Express left Washington's Union Station on Monday morning, stopped in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and arrived at New York's Penn Station two hours and 47 minutes later. That's 13 minutes faster than the Amtrak Metroliner that Acela eventually will replace, but three minutes slower than scheduled. The train then completed its first scheduled New York-Boston run in three hours and 28 minutes. That's an impressive 80 minutes faster than the Metroliner, but 10 minutes behind Acela's published schedule. On Tuesday, however, Acela didn't run at all because of a variety of technical glitches. At the moment, there are only two Acela Express trains and one daily Washington-Boston roundtrip, but Amtrak hopes to have 20 of the 150-mile-per-hour trains in service by the summer. The unrestricted one-way coach fares is $143 between Washington and New York and $120 between Boston and New York.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
LanChile will launch nonstop service to Guayaquil, Ecuador from New York/Kennedy beginning December 15. The daily flights will use three-class B-767s; restricted introductory fares start at $378 round-trip. AeroMexico begins flights to Monterrey from Kennedy on January 8. The daily flights will be operated with MD-80s. Virgin Atlantic says it will offer nonstop flights between Toronto and London/Gatwick beginning in June. Air France expects to launch daily nonstop flights between Paris/DeGaulle and Dallas/Fort Worth in May. Air France and Delta Air Lines are partners in the Skyteam Alliance and Delta maintains a small hub at DFW. SAS Scandinavian plans to launch five weekly flights between its Copenhagen hub and Washington/Dulles beginning in May. Dulles is a hub for United Airlines and both carriers are members of the Star Alliance. Emirates will launch daily service from its Dubai hub to Dusseldorf beginning March 25.

This column originally appeared at

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