The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 22 TO MARCH 29, 2001


This week: 'Split' tickets can save big bucks on some international itineraries; our weekly look at the nation's alternate airlines; how to track a possible Comair/Delta Connection strike on the web; Roots Air takes off next week in Canada; a safety scare for two-engine, over-water jets; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The 'Split' Savings on International Flights
The renewed strength of the U.S. dollar is once again warping the international airline pricing structure and creating huge gaps in the local-currency fares between any two destinations. So don't book a unrestricted roundtrip itinerary without first checking whether it would be cheaper to "split" the tickets, buying the outbound U.S. segment in dollars and purchasing the return leg in local currency. Some examples: A one-way business-class ticket between San Francisco and Paris costs $4,285. But purchase your return flight in francs and you'll only pay the equivalent of $3,596. Traveling business class between Los Angeles and Sydney will cost $3,831. Buy your return ticket to Los Angeles in Australian dollars and you'll pay only the equivalent of $2,673. The "split" on Boston-Milan is also dramatic: $2,721 to Milan in business class, but the equivalent of only $1,420 when the return flight to Boston is purchased in Italian lira.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: A Weekly Look at America's Other Airlines
AirTran Airways
has grown into a formidable competitor to Delta at Atlanta/Hartsfield and now the carrier is planning to take on Northwest, too. Effective May 3, AirTran launches three daily flights between Atlanta and Northwest's hometown hub of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Midway Airlines begins three daily roundtrip flights between its hub in Raleigh/Durham and Providence, Rhode Island, on April 18. Introductory fares are as low as $64 each way for travel by June 25. Spirit Airlines is adding several new routes to its spring and summer schedule. Effective May 9, the airline is launching nonstop service between Chicago/Hare and Los Angeles. Beginning May 16, it adds a nonstop between Detroit and Oakland. And on July 2, Spirit opens service on a nonstop between O'Hare and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

CYBERTRAVELER: Will Comair Pilots Go on Strike?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, pilots at Comair this week overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer. A federally mandated 30-day "cooling off" period expires at 12:01 am Monday (March 26) and pilots would then be free to strike the Delta Connection commuter carrier. Despite the Bush Administration's repeated insistence that it would order Presidential Emergency Boards to delay airline strikes, no one knows whether that pledge applies to smaller carriers such as Comair. So what's a traveler to do? Track developments during the next few days carefully by checking the websites of Delta, Comair or the Air Line Pilots Association. All three sites have placed conspicuous links to strike-related affairs directly on their respective home pages. One other reminder: Comair, which is strong in Orlando and acts as the primary feeder carrier for Delta's huge Cincinnati hub, operates all Delta flight carrying numbers 5000 to 6099. Those flights will not operate if Comair is hit with a strike.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Choice in the Canadian Skies Takes Root
The tin-eared, tin-pot dictators who run Air Canada have alienated the entire nation since they seized virtual control of Canada's skies. They have raised fares, reduced service, humiliated travelers and tried to intimidate every potential new competitor. But Roots Air, a new full-service carrier, is due to launch scheduled flights Monday on two of Canada's most important routes: Toronto-Vancouver and Toronto-Calgary. "It's been bully-boy city. Air Canada has been trying to kill us," says Roots Air president Russell Payson. "But we can find a niche by appealing to price-conscious business travelers. We'll charge less and do a lot better for the frequent flyer." Essentially a joint venture between Skyservice, a charter operator, and Roots, the hip Canadian clothing retailer, Roots Air flights will offer three classes of service (Gold, Silver, and Bronze) on Airbus A320 jets. Prices will be about 30 percent below Air Canada's current unrestricted fares. The Gold Class "premium business" service features seats with 45 inches of legroom, a complimentary bar and a choice of three entrees.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
British Airways flights around the world have been hit with sporadic delays due to computer glitches with the carrier's check-in procedures. Delays have averaged about 30 minutes, but some flights last week were delayed as long as three hours. Tokyo has opened its 12th subway line. The Oedo Line makes 37 stops and loops around the metropolitan area. Speaking of trains: Lufthansa has placed its LH airline code on six daily flights between Frankfurt and Stuttgart. The quirk: The "flights" are actually trains operated by Deutsche Bahn, the German state railway. The trains depart from the rail station located below Frankfurt Airport and arrive at the downtown Stuttgart rail terminal. Lufthansa says the train is equivalent to a business-class flight. A reminder: New international airports are scheduled to begin operation in Seoul and Athens during the next ten days. Be prepared for the inevitable confusion and delays.

SAFETY CHECK: How Many Engines are Enough?
Travelers who have always been queasy about flying two-engine jets on long-haul, over-water routes have their first bit of operational substantiation: A United Airlines Boeing 767 en route to Los Angeles developed trouble in both engines shortly after takeoff last week from Maui, Hawaii. The plane diverted to Kona, Hawaii, and landed without incident. Initial reports claimed that both engines briefly shut down, but the National Transportation Safety Board disputed the characterization. "Neither engine experienced a total loss of power," the NTSB said. The problem was a "dual engine roll back," or power reduction in both engines, during a fuel-transfer procedure. The Boeing 767, operating as United Flight 42, was climbing past 29,000 feet about 70 miles from Hawaii when the engine trouble began.

This column originally appeared at

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