The Tactical Traveler



This week: Midway returns next week; AirTran fills the gap at BWI; the new Salk Airport Guide is out; Diners Club begins accepting online payments; the definition of terminal dump; Amtrak needs a liquidation plan; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Amtrak is on the Eve of Destruction
A 1997 law provided Amtrak more than $2 billion of capital funds, but demanded that national passenger-rail service achieve self-sufficiency within five years. Last month, Amtrak admitted the obvious: Given its present structure, it won't be able to go it alone. That kicks in a doomsday provision of the law requiring Amtrak to prepare a plan for its own liquidation. Barring a Congressional change of heart, that plan will be due in mid-February. Skeptics are well within their rights to note that Congress just gave the airlines $5 billion and required no such pledge of self-sufficiency. In fairness, however, Amtrak has unique problems. For one thing, it is saddled with a skeletal, unprofitable long-haul network that obliterates any profit it earns on short-haul routes within the East Coast Corridor. And then there's this oddity: Government-owned Amtrak operates the service, while private industry owns the track infra-structure. That's the reverse of the nation's automotive system (the government owns the roadways, private companies provide the service); the commercial air-transportation network (government agencies own the airspace and airports, private airlines provide the flights); and even the maritime system (the government owns the waterways, but private companies operate the transportation).

ALTERNATE AGENDA: An Update on America's Alternate Carriers
Midway Airlines is scheduled to resume service Wednesday, December 19, with flights from its Raleigh-Durham hub to six cities: Boston, New York/LaGuardia, Newark, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale. Introductory fares start as low as $49 one-way. AirTran continues to fill the vacuum at Baltimore/Washington International left by US Airways. It launched nonstop flights on December 12 from BWI to both Atlanta and Boston. And it begins service to Fort Lauderdale on January 17. Denver-based Frontier Airlines has restored food service on flights longer than 90 minutes. Sun Country, which was struggling to compete with Northwest Airlines at Minneapolis/St.Paul, has abandoned scheduled flights.

Los Angeles International has been juggling access roads and traffic patterns almost daily since September 11. Among the latest changes: alteration of access policies on Century Boulevard and another rerouting of the airport-return road near United Terminal 7. Continental Airlines has opened a third concourse in its sprawling terminal at its Newark hub. At the same time, it has largely rerouted traffic flow and facilities throughout the terminal. The endless political saga that is Chicago/O'Hare has taken another turn. Now Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley have agreed to a plan that would build several controversial new runways at O'Hare, keep downtown Meigs Field open until 2006 and build a "third" Chicago airport in Peotone, Illinois. Whether any of these proposals will actually happen remains a mystery. Cathay Pacific has built another lavish lounge at its Hong Kong hub. Called The Pier, the 4,000-square-meter club is a supplement to Cathay's much-admired "Wing" Lounge. It features dayrooms, shower suites, office cubicles and a variety of bars and food outlets.

BOOK BEAT: The Indispensable Airport Guide
The 2002 edition of the Airport Transit Guide from Salk International has just been published and I'll repeat my long-standing recommendation: This is the best $9.95 investment you can make to ease your life on the road. The 144-page pocket-size booklet covers 453 airports worldwide and lists taxi rates; public-transit connections and prices; car-rental, limousine and helicopter options; and a wide variety of other useful data. And far be it from me to play gift counselor, but the Guide makes a great last-minute stocking stuffer for any frequent flyers on your list. Individual copies can be purchased from the equally indispensable Magellan's catalog (800-962-4943).

CYBERTRAVELER: Diners Club Finally Accepts Online Payments
From the better-late-than-never department: Diners Club has finally begun to offer U.S. cardholders an online payment option. You can arrange to make your payments via the Web at the Diners Club site.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Been caught at an airport when some apparatchik decides there has been a security breach and then orders the evacuation of terminals and planes? You'll be happy to know that the procedure has a name that's as undignified as the procedure: terminal dump. Hotels are stepping into the breach to feed frequent flyers now that the major airlines have cut back on in-flight meals. The Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and the Doral Park Avenue in New York now have official services to sell guests specially packaged carry-on meals. But many hotels will provide "meals to go" on request. The Northwest WorldPerks program has added a new partner: Calyx & Corolla, the flower- and plant-delivery service. A minimum $60 purchase earns 900 miles while a $150 purchase earns 1,800 miles. The airlines recorded an 84.8 percent on-time mark in October, according to the Transportation Department. That's the industry's best showing since September, 1997. On the other hand, it's depressing to realize that, even with sharply reduced schedules, the airlines can't run at least nine of 10 flights on time, especially since a flight is considered "on time" if it's as much as 14 minutes late.

This column originally appeared at

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