The Tactical Traveler

FOR NOVEMBER 22 TO 29, 2001


This week: United is 90 days from a strike; Northwest delays the new Detroit terminal again; DFW builds a passenger center; Yahoo! adds security news; DOT has a bad record on security deadlines; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Back to the Brink at United
United Airlines and one of its employee groups are heading back to the brink of a strike. After almost two years of mostly fruitless contract negotiations, the National Mediation Board this week released the airline and its mechanics union into a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period. That expires on December 21, but the mediation board already has requested Presi-dential intervention and the White House has said it would appoint a Presidential Emergency Board. Formation of an emergency board would delay a possible strike for 60 more days. If there is still no contract agreement, then the mechanics would be free to strike on February 21.

AIRPORT REPORT (DOMESTIC): Northwest Delays Detroit Again
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Northwest has announced it won't open the new 97-gate Midfield Terminal at Detroit/Metro on January 20. The 2-million-square-foot complex was originally scheduled to open December 9, but this summer Northwest announced a six-week delay. At that time, the airline even had the audacity to publicly claim January 20 as an "on-time arrival." Now Northwest says the facility will open February 24. By Northwest's standards, do you think that qualifies as an "early arrival?" Dallas/Fort Worth has opened the first phase of what it calls the Guest Services Center. Located at Gate 14 in Terminal B, the 24-hour facility currently offers an ATM, a FedEx drop box, machines dispensing stamps and phone cards, and a passenger-assistance booth. Within the next few weeks, airport officials say the center will expand to add a lounge and seating area and private work stations with Internet access.

AIRPORT REPORT (INTERNATIONAL): Controversy Wherever You Look
The British government this week gave its official blessing to a planned Terminal 5 at London/Heathrow Airport, but don't hold your breath on this one. Already 14 years in the planning and approval phases, the so-called T5 plan faces fierce opposition from a wide range of British environmental and community activists. Speaking of controversial airports, the Mexican government has chosen Texcoco, about ten miles from the outer reaches of Mexico City, as the site of the city's second airport. Construction of the facility is due to begin late next year, but opposition to the Texcoco site has already developed. Meanwhile, the French government has chosen the farming town of Chaulnes as the site of a contested third airport for Paris. The site is located in the Somme Valley, about 75 miles north of Paris. Assuming government officials can overcome staunch opposition to the $4.5 billion plan, the airport is due for completion in 20 years.

BAILOUT REPORT: The Big Names Go Bye-Bye
The much-ballyhooed Air Transportation Stabilization Board, created in September to oversee the $10 billion federal loan guarantee program for the airlines, has already lost its three marquee members. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta have all quit the board and designated deputies to take their places. You'll recall that supporters of the bailout claimed that the process would be safe for taxpayers because financial wizards such as Greenspan and O'Neill were on the board Meanwhile, America West became the first major airline to request assistance from the board. It requested $400 million in federal loan guarantees. Where is the $5 billion in tax grants we gave the airlines going? In the case of Delta, some of it is headed right into its shareholders' pockets. Despite claiming huge losses, Delta is proceeding with a 2.5-cents-per-share dividend payout in the third quarter.

CYBERTRAVELER: Follow the Security Debate on the Web
Looking for a one-stop, online source for news, information and opinion on the state of airport security after the September 11 tragedies? Those relentless aggregators over at Yahoo! have set up an excellent site for the endless stream of security stories that have been published by the nation's major newspapers, magazines and wire services.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Curb Your Enthusiasm on the Security Bill
As compromise legislation goes, the aviation-security bill signed by President Bush on Monday isn't bad. It turns security screening over to the Department of Transportation and mandates a raft of additional security measures. Within a year, screeners must be federal employees and they must be U.S. citizens. They will be subject to stringent government background checks, they will operate under uniform federal guidelines and they will not be managed under burdensome civil-service rules. Airports will be allowed to opt out of the federalized system in three years if an approved private-sector screening option exists. But you'd be well advised to curb your enthusiasm because the DOT has a notoriously bad record on airport-security deadlines. Two notable examples: In 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration was given three years to install explosive-detection machines at airports. Yet fewer than 10 percent of checked bags are now inspected for explosives. And a 1996 law required DOT to issue rules for certifying the private security companies that currently handle airport screening. Transportation Department bureaucrats never got around to issuing the rules.

This column originally appeared at

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