The Tactical Traveler



This week: Continental crows about profits, then raises ticketing fees; our weekly look at the nation's alternate carriers; Air Canada flies into the Silicon Valley; a Los Angeles judge upholds Southwest's fat-flyer surcharge; Camino Real and Hilton join forces in Mexico; two airlines offer cheap premium-class companion fares; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Why We Need More Aviation Competition
Submitted for your approval: two compelling examples of why we need more aviation competition, not fewer carriers. Continental celebrated a gaudy earnings report last week and boasted that its per-share income jumped 45 percent during last year's fourth quarter and 18 percent on a year-over-year basis. This week, however, Continental felt compelled to hike the change fee for non-refundable tickets. Now Continental charges $100 per ticket, up from $75, for changes to itineraries in North and South America. This new increase comes on top of the four fare hikes and two fuel surcharges that Continental instigated during the last 12 months. By contrast, Vanguard Airlines, a low-fare carrier based in Kansas City, announced it was eliminating the fuel surcharges on all its tickets.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Comings and Goings at America's Other Carriers
Spirit Airlines
, the all-coach discount carrier, begins daily nonstop flights on February 8 between Newark and Melbourne, Florida. Introductory fares begin at $128 roundtrip; the service will be flown with 133-seat MD-87s. Speaking of Florida, Pan Am will launch a daily roundtrip on February 6 between Worcester, Massachusetts, and Sanford International, an airport near Orlando. One-way fares for the all-coach service start at $110. Midway Airlines will launch two daily nonstops between its Raleigh-Durham hub and Denver on February 14. Southwest Airlines is dumping flights to and from San Francisco on March 5. Most of its existing San Francisco service will be moved across the Bay to Oakland. On April 1, Frontier Airlines will drop flights from its Denver hub to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

CANADA WATCH: Air Canada Flies into the (Silicon) Valley
Air Canada is hoping to tap into the under-served Silicon Valley this year and will beef up its transborder service to San Jose, California. Beginning March 5, the carrier will launch a daily Airbus A319 nonstop from the Canadian capital of Ottawa. On June 29, it will begin nonstop A319 flights between San Jose and Calgary, Alberta. (Air Canada has been flying to the Silicon Valley from its Toronto hub since 1998.) A first-flight bonus of double Aeroplan frequent-flyer miles applies to the Ottawa route between March 5 and April 15; the bonus period for Calgary flights is June 29 to September 1.

CYBERTRAVELER: Finding Every Bureaucrat in the World
Whenever we think we're too hip and sophisticated to need overseas embassies and consulates, something inevitably slaps us upside the head and reminds us not to be so arrogant. When that moment of cosmic comeuppance arrives, point your browser to Embassy World ( The site's entire contents are lists of embassies, consulates, permanent missions and the relevant contact numbers and URLs. Lists are organized alphabetically by a nation's embassies and by the foreign embassies located in that nation. Or, you can use an interactive search engine: Enter the embassy you seek and the country you're in and up pops the appropriate data.

LEGAL BRIEFS: A Judge Upholds Southwest's Fat-Flyer Surcharge
A Los Angeles judge ruled last month that Southwest Airlines was within its rights last May to charge an overweight traveler for two seats. According to a lawsuit filed by a passenger who admitted she weighed more than 300 pounds, she was informed of the airline's fat-flyer policy after she boarded a Southwest flight between Reno, Nevada, and Burbank, California. An airline employee asked if she needed a seat-belt extension and then she was told to buy another ticket "so as not to inconvenience other passengers." The overweight passenger claimed she sat in one seat with the armrest down "with another person seated next to her in a comfortable position." However, Superior Court Judge Marilyn Hoffman dismissed the passenger's lawsuit, which claimed Southwest's fat-flyer policy amounted to harassment and discrimination. Southwest attorney Arthur Wilner said the two-ticket rule is used "in any situation where it appears for whatever reason a passenger might significantly encroach on another passenger."

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Effective April 1, Camino Real hotels in Mexico will become Hilton affiliates. The chain's 21 upscale properties will award Hilton HHonors miles and accept room reservations through Hilton's Web site and its toll-free reservation numbers. The Internal Revenue Service has set the 2001 national per-mile business driving rate at 34.5 cents. That's the amount U.S. taxpayers can deduct for auto expenses for business miles driven. Delta Air Lines will upgrade its international business-class amenity kits next week. L'Occitane products will be distributed in special tins emblazoned with designs of vintage Delta aircraft.

WEEKLY WONDERS: Cheap Premium-Class Companion Tickets
El Al
(800-223-6700) is offering a $250 companion fare to travelers who buy a full-fare business- or first-class ticket for departures before March 29. The deal is valid on any El Al flight to Israel from the airline's gateways. Meanwhile, Sabena (877-235-9387) and Diners Club are collaborating on a $100 business-class companion ticket to Brussels. The promotion (code G*R5ZJ78) is valid for travelers who purchase a full-fare business-class ticket from Sabena's U.S. gateways.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.