The Tactical Traveler



This week: The FAA plays a numbers game on carry-on bags; our weekly update of America's alternate carriers; the airlines close a raft of airport clubs; Air Canada creates its low-fare carrier; two more firms ease their rules for qualifying for elite status; several more fatal tragedies mar the air-travel landscape; and Aloha slashes the price of flying to paradise.

After year of resistance, the Federal Aviation Administration finally entered the carry-on fray this week and promulgated an industry-wide standard for the number of bags a traveler may bring aboard a flight. In typical bureaucratic fashion, however, the FAA played a numbers game rather than issuing clear and definitive guidance. Effective October 8, the FAA said travelers "will now be limited to one carry-on bag and one personal item" such as a briefcase, pocketbook, knapsack or laptop bag. But the FAA issued no rules on the permissible size of the bags, which means the size restrictions imposed independently by each airline remain in effect. "The rules," one FAA official admitted this week, "are open to interpretation." So, essentially, the practical limit on carry-ons remains where it always has been: two bags. Naturally, you shouldn't try to carry two rolling bags or two garments bags on a flight. Instead, make sure one of the bags can plausibly be considered your briefcase or your pocketbook and that both bags meet existing airline size restrictions. You can examine the entire FAA statement yourself by surfing to the FAA website.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: An Update on America's Other Carriers
JetBlue Airways has added a third daily nonstop between New York/Kennedy and Long Beach, California. One-way fares start as low as $94 at the JetBlue website. It is also offering "We Love New York" fares as low as $24 one-way between Kennedy and its upstate New York destinations of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Tickets must purchased by October 19 for travel by December 15. AirTran Airways is challenging Delta's monopoly on the Atlanta-Pensacola route by launching three daily nonstops beginning November 7. AirTran is also moving into the intra-Florida territory recently abandoned by MetroJet. Effective November 15, it will fly three daily nonstops between Miami and Tampa with continuing service to Tallahassee. One-way introductory fares are as low as $30. Tickets must be purchased by November 14 for travel by January 15. Midwest Express will launch three daily nonstop weekday flights between its Kansas City hub and Omaha beginning November 1. It will drop Omaha-Los Angeles service on October 31, however.

AIRPORT REPORT: The Club Life Takes a Hit
Armed with $5 billion of taxpayer cash, the nation's major airlines continue doing what airlines usually do: Make life difficult for frequent flyers, their best and most profitable customers. Now they are shuttering a host of airport clubs just when we need the facilities most. American, for example, has closed Admirals Club outposts in six cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Nashville and Phoenix. United says it has "temporarily" closed Red Carpet Club rooms in Atlanta, Cleveland and Indianapolis and shut the club in San Francisco's North Terminal Mezzanine. On October 15, Delta is permanently closing six Crown Room facilities, including Birmingham, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Minneapolis and Montreal. And it already has "temporarily" closed some of its outlets at its Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas/Fort Worth and New York/Kennedy hubs. The US Airways Club locations in Newark and Cleveland have closed, and US Airways is closing an outpost at its Charlotte hub and two at its Pittsburgh hub. Separately, US Airways opened a new club in Tampa this week and is scheduled to open one in Raleigh-Durham next month.

CANADIAN CORNER: Air Canada Goes No Frills
After gobbling up Canadian International Airlines and stomping out start-up Roots Air, Air Canada is now targeting its low-fare domestic competitors. "Mapleflot" announced on Wednesday it would launch a no-frills service called Tango. The airline begins operation November 1 from a hub in Toronto. It will use one-class Airbus A-320 jets to fly to seven major Canadian cities; one-way fares start at $79. It goes without saying that Tango has very little chance of success, since virtually every attempt of a full-priced, full-service carrier to launch a no-frills airline has failed. In the last 30 days, for example, both USAirways and United have abandoned their low-fare divisions. For more details, consult the Tango website.

MILES & POINTS: Getting Elite Gets Easier
Two more travel firms have bowed to the inevitable and eased their rules for attaining 2002 preferred status in their frequent-travel plans. US Airways, for example, has lowered the thresholds for attaining preferred Dividend Miles status by 20 percent. You must fly between October 4 and December 31 to qualify at the lower levels, however. Meanwhile, Marriott has extended until March 31 the time frame for qualifying for Marriott Rewards elite levels.

TRACKING TRAGEDY: Seven Days of Armageddon
The events of September 11 were horrific enough, but air-travel has suffered through an additional series of disasters during the last seven days. Each would have been front-page news in normal times, but now all have been virtually ignored. For your information, a sad litany of what has occurred: Last Thursday, 78 people died on a Siberian Airlines jet when it plunged into Black Sea. The plane, en route from Tel Aviv to the Russian city of Novosibirsk, was apparently hit by a stray Ukrainian missile fired during a training exercise. That same day, a false report of the hijacking of an Indian airliner traveling between Bombay and New Delhi led to a comedy of errors and recrimination. On Tuesday, however, the 24-year-old airline employee who received the initial hoax call died of heart failure. On Monday, 114 people died at Milan's Linate Airport when a taxiing SAS jet clipped a private plane and smashed into a building. As usual, Linate was shrouded in dense fog on Monday, but the airport's ground-radar system was not operating. On Wednesday, nine people died when a PenAir commuter airline crashed shortly after take-off from Dillingham, Alaska. The plane was headed to King Salmon and investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the crash.

WEEKLY WONDER: Aloha Cuts the Cost of Paradise
Totally dependant on air service, Hawaii is suffering mightily now that travel has declined after September 11. To combat the slump, Aloha Airlines has slashed the fare of its nonstop mainland flights to Honolulu, Maui and Kona. The roundtrip price of $320 is valid for departures from Oakland or John Wayne/Orange County. Tickets must be purchased by October 22, but travel is valid until December 15.

This column originally appeared at

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