The Tactical Traveler



This week: Contrary to media reports, airlines do not face immediate work stoppages; our weekly look at the nation's alternate carriers; the Transportation Department says (surprise!) that voluntary airline customer service plans are failing; Newark Airport's monorail still doesn't work; the airlines say Athens' new airport isn't ready to open; and much more.

There was much weeping and gnashing of metaphorical teeth in the mainstream media this week concerning the topic of massive, imminent labor disruptions in the airline industry. Well, guess what? The sky isn't falling. First of all, no industry-wide labor action is legally possible because each carrier negotiates separate and independent contracts with its unions. Moreover, it will be months before any of the affected unions would be legally free to strike. The first union that could walk is mechanics at Northwest Airlines. They've been working without a new labor agreement for more than four years. On Monday, the National Mediation Board, which oversees airline labor relations, released Northwest and the union into a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period. After that, the mechanics would normally be free to strike, but the Bush Administration has already stated that it would delay any possible strike for 60 more days, until at least May 12. Meanwhile, none of the other airlines and unions involved in negotiations (Delta and its pilots, United and its mechanics and American and its flight attendants) has even been released from the control of the mediation board.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: A Weekly Look at America's Other Carriers
Southwest Airlines
has launched a nationwide fare sale. Prices for coast-to-coast travel are as low as $99 one-way for midweek and Saturday travel; fares start at $119 on other days. Tickets must be published by February 22 and require a seven-day advance purchase. JetBlue Airways will launch service between New York/Kennedy and Syracuse, New York, on May 7. The three daily flights will use all-coach Airbus A320 jets. One-way fares range from $49 to $105.

AIRPORT REPORT: Balky Monorails and Balking Airlines
The monorail at Newark Airport closed for repairs five months ago, leaving travelers to use buses on the airport's congested roadway whenever they wanted to change terminals or reach the parking lots. The closure has already been twice as long as originally predicted, but no official reopening date has been announced. The Greek government says it will open the new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport on March 1 as originally planned, but airlines are balking. IATA, the airline trade group, says the facility, located about 10 miles from Athens, is not ready for occupancy. Among the problems: the major roadways linking the airport with central Athens are not finished. The Greek government rejects the complaints, however. The airlines are "danger mongering" and their concerns "do not correspond to reality and the truth," snapped public works minister Costas Laliotis. Across the world in Seoul, the South Korean government has set March 29 as the official opening date for Incheon International Airport. It will replace aging Kimpo as Seoul's domestic and international airport.

CYBERTRAVELER: Surprise! The Airlines Broke Their Promises
No one who knows anything about the airlines gave much weight to the carriers' fatuous Customer First initiatives when they were first launched in December, 1999. In fact, one of my columns called the voluntary programs "a collection of the unenforceable, the unimaginative, the implausible, the impossibly vague, the illogical and the previously mandated." Several, I suggested, "are blatant lies." The Transportation Department's Inspector General came to essentially the same conclusion Monday when he released a report on his year-long review of the plans. The study, which runs to more than 100 pages, makes for depressing reading, especially when the Inspector General, Kenneth Mead, admits that nothing the airlines promised was binding because few of their promises were ever incorporated into the carriers' contracts of carriage.

ON THE FLY: New International Routes Worth Noting
On March 2, American Airlines will begin nonstop daily service to Maracaibo, Venezuela, from its Latin American hub in Miami. Boeing 737s configured with 134 seats will be used on the route. Cathay Pacific will launch nonstop service to Delhi from its Hong Kong hub on March 26. There will be four flights weekly using Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Delta Air Lines inaugurates New York/Kennedy-Tokyo/Narita nonstops on April 1 and it is promoting the flights with double SkyMiles for coach customers and triple miles for business-class passengers. The bonus can be earned until June 30, but travelers must enroll in the promotion before flying. British Midland, which changed its brand name to bmi earlier this month, will launch its first flights to the United States on May 21. From Manchester, England, there will be daily flights to Chicago/O'Hare and six weekly flights to Washington/Dulles. Both are hubs for United Airlines, British Midland's partner in the Star Alliance. Flights will be operated with Airbus A330-200 aircraft configured with a business class, a full-fare economy cabin and traditional coach.

WEEKLY WONDER: An End-of-Month Clearance Sale at Aer Lingus
Quietly and without public notice, on the 16th of every month, Aer Lingus (800-IRISH-AIR) posts the airline equivalent of a clearance sale. The promotion is on "what we have left over" for travel during the following calendar month, explains Jack Foley, an Aer Lingus executive. "Sometimes we have hundreds of seats, but sometimes we only have one route on sale." The clearance-sale fares from the Irish carrier are available directly from Aer Lingus or through travel agents, All fares require a Saturday stay and we have no idea of what will be available tomorrow. You'll have to call and find out.

This column originally appeared at

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