The Tactical Traveler



This week: Both sides dig in for a long strike at Comair; fare sales at the nation's alternate carriers; a flash point in Delta's negotiations with pilots; the TWA purchase irritates labor at American; new airports in Seoul and Athens get off to rocky starts; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Comair Strike May Be a Long One
Comair pilots began walking the picket lines Monday and both sides in the dispute now seem to be digging in for a long, acrimonious strike. Comair management has already canceled all of its 815 daily flights through 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 5. The Cincinnati-based carrier says it will continue canceling flights on a weekly basis until it reaches an accord with its pilots. Worse, as of this morning (March 29), no talks are scheduled between the two sides. There also seems to be no chance of Presidential involvement to force the parties back to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, two reminders: Comair, Delta and the Air Line Pilots Association are posting updates at their respective Web sites. And please note that Comair operates Delta Flights 5000 to 6099; those flights are also canceled.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Now Is the Time for the Spring Fare Sales
Several alternate carriers have launched their spring fare sales. JetBlue Airways, for example, has slashed prices to as low as $69 one way for flights between its New York/Kennedy hub and its five Florida destinations: Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers. Tickets must be purchased by April 20 for travel between May 1 and June 27. The Spring Ahead fares at Spirit Airlines reduce prices to as low as $59 one way from cities in the Northeast and Midwest to Myrtle Beach, Florida and California. Tickets require a roundtrip purchase and must be booked by April 14; the fares are valid for travel between April 26 and June 13. The Spring is in the Air sale at Frontier Airlines is valid for all destinations the airline serves from its Denver hub. Sample one-way fares: $54 to Kansas City; $99 to Chicago/Midway and $139 to Atlanta. An off-peak roundtrip and 14-day advance purchase is required. Tickets must be purchased by April 3 for travel through November 14.

AIRPORT REPORT: Controversy and Confusion at Athens and Seoul
Athens and Seoul opened their long-awaited new international airports within hours of each other this week, but neither debut was without its share of controversy and confusion. The baggage system is not fully functioning at the new Seoul airport, Incheon International. Moreover, only one bridge and a single road connects downtown Seoul with the $4.4 billion airport, which is built on a man-made island. The 52-kilometer (36-mile) drive can require up to two hours. Meanwhile, in Athens, the Greek government plunged ahead with the opening of Eleftherios Venizelos Airport despite the fact that access roads are not complete. The $2 billion facility is located in suburban Spata and the ride into downtown Athens could require as much as two hours on the city's legendarily congested roads.

EARLY WARNINGS I: Delta and Its Pilots at a Flashpoint
Pilots at Delta Air Lines are scheduled to meet today (March 29) to decide whether to accept binding arbitration from the National Mediation Board, which oversees airline labor contracts. If the pilots accept, then a strike would be averted. But if the pilots refuse--Delta management has already accepted arbitration--the mediation board would be required to release the parties into a 30-day cooling off period. At the end of that time, if no contract agreement is reached, the pilots would be legally free to strike. The contingency that could delay a strike? If the NMB recommends a Presidential Emergency Board, then President Bush could intervene at the end of the cooling-off period and defer the strike for 60 days. The mediation board called for Presidential intervention in the current Northwest dispute with its mechanics, but did not request such action in the Comair situation.

EARLY WARNINGS II: Déjà Vu All Over Again at American
American Airlines' road to purchasing TWA has been remarkably easy--until now, that is. In January, American demanded TWA declare Chapter 11 and TWA management meekly complied. American then convinced the bankruptcy court to create a series of financial impediments to any competing bid for TWA assets. And both the Transportation Department and Justice Department recently refused to delay or alter the transaction. But now that it is within weeks of gobbling up TWA, American suddenly faces stiff opposition from its own labor unions. American's pilots, flight attendants and mechanics are concerned about their own job security and seniority within the merged carriers and this week they went on record against the merger. In fact, it's a case of déjà vu all over again for American. The carrier ran into labor opposition to its purchase of Reno Air in 1998 and that resulted in a disastrous pilot sick out that created chaos for almost two weeks. American's unions can't legally stop the TWA buy, of course, but schedule-disrupting job actions are now a distinct possibility.

WEEKLY WONDER: Two Paths to European Discounts
The slowing economy and fears engendered by the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease have taken their toll on European travel. There are suddenly lots of empty seats across the pond and carriers are scrambling. Some, like Aer Lingus (800-IRISH-AIR), have taken a strategic approach and put the entire spring and summer on sale. The Irish carrier has slashed mid-week fares to Ireland as low as $399 roundtrip in April and May and as low as $599 in July and August. Tickets must be purchased by April 5; travel is valid through August 31. Others carriers, like British Airways (800-AIRWAYS), are taking a tactical, short-term approach. After offering a $99 one-way fare to London in March, the British carrier is selling mid-week fares to London as low as $149 one-way during April. Tickets must be purchased by April 5.

This column originally appeared at

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