The Tactical Traveler



This week: LAX hikes parking and car-rental fees; alternate carriers grow; a hotel reopens near Ground Zero; Amtrak restores Boston-Portland service; the media gets burned by former El Al officials; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Prepare for Chaos at the Airports
The nation’s major airlines are required to begin screening all checked bags on Friday, January 18, and that’s sure to cause chaos and delays for days, and perhaps weeks, to come. Under the terms of the new federal security law, airlines have four options: X-ray screening, hand searches, bomb-sniffing dogs or “bag matching,” which requires checked bags be matched to travelers on the flight. Bags without passengers must be removed from the flight. Even though the Transportation Department is allowing airlines to slip through a huge loophole--the carriers don’t need to match bags on the connecting portion of flights--the airlines aren’t ready to screen the estimated daily load of about 3 million bags. “I wouldn’t travel if I didn’t have to,” was how one top executive glumly assessed his carrier’s state of preparedness.

AIRPORT REPORT: Los Angeles Socks It to You
Flying from Los Angeles International or Ontario International? Then it’s time to dig deep. LAX and Ontario now charge a $10 per rental surcharge whenever you rent a car there. And, effective February 15, parking fees will increase, too. At LAX, for example, Central Terminal daily rates will jump to $30 a day from $24; economy-lot parking rates will increase to as high as $10 a day. … The food concessions at Miami International operated by Host Marriott now sell SkyMeals, food items packaged to carry aboard a flight. SkyMeals are priced at $6.99 and include a choice of sandwiches or a chicken Caesar salad. … A 110-room Doubletree Club hotel has opened at New York/JFK Airport. … A 396-room Wyndham hotel has reopened at Newark Airport after a $35 million renovation. … A 251-room Doubletree hotel has opened one mile from John Wayne/Orange County airport. … Expedia has opened a “Travel Right Café” in Terminal 4 of Los Angeles International. The Café sells snacks and offers free Internet access, phone jacks and power outlets to recharge cell phones and laptop computers.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: The Other Guys Keep Expanding
North America’s major carriers may be atrophying, but the alternate airlines continue to expand their routes. … AirTran Airways, for example, is launching two new routes from Newport News on March 5. There will be two daily nonstops to New York/LaGuardia and a daily nonstop to Orlando. Then, on March 14, AirTran is adding flights to Rochester, New York. There will be two daily flights to AirTran’s Atlanta hub and two flights to Baltimore/Washington. … On February 7, WestJet will launch nonstop service between Calgary and London, Ontario. At the same time, Canada’s fast-growing low-fare carrier will launch twice-daily nonstops between Winnipeg and Edmonton. … Meanwhile, the 800-pound gorilla of alternate airlines, Southwest, is resuming its growth on February 4. It will take delivery of two new 737s and add nonstop flights in several existing markets, including Baltimore/Washington, Long Island/Islip, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

IN THE LOBBY: Reopenings and Reflaggings
There are signs of business-travel life around Ground Zero in New York. The 504-room Marriott Financial Center hotel, which has been closed since the attacks of September 11, reopened last week. It is located at 85 West Street. … Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Sheraton is taking over one of the only lodging facilities on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. The 62-unit Molokai Ranch becomes the Sheraton Molokai Lodge next month. … The 541-room Regent Las Vegas has become a JW Marriott hotel.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
America West has added a $10 fee for using paper tickets whenever an E-ticket is available. … Speaking of America West, the Phoenix-based carrier is the first to get a government-guaranteed loan as part of the $15 billion airline bailout approved after September 11. In exchange, the U.S. taxpayers get the right to purchase up to one-third of the carrier at a fixed price. You can make up your own joke line for that one. … And speaking of electronic tickets, United and Northwest airlines now offer joint E-tix. … Dollar Rent a Car has ended its test of a fingerprinting program for renters. Surprise! It didn’t work. … The Canadian Transportation Agency has ruled that travelers do not have the right to purchase back-to-back tickets on Air Canada as a way of lowering fares. The flyer who initiated the action says he will appeal the ruling. … Amtrak has reopened the 114-mile route between Boston and Portland, Maine, after a hiatus of more than 30 years. There are four “Downeaster” trains daily from Boston’s North Station; the one-way trip will cost $21 and take about two hours and 45 minutes.

VERBATIM: Can We Shut These Guys Up Now?
Whenever airline-security issues pop up--as they have with depressing regularity since September 11--the mainstream media immediately begins quoting any former El Al official they can find. Despite the fact that El Al’s laudable security regimens are not usually transferable to the much larger U.S. airline system, media types insist on treating El Al talking heads as if they are omniscient. This dishonorable practice bit The Washington Post on its metaphoric butt last month. On Sunday, December 23, The Post ran a long, groveling, front-page feature about “Isaac Yeffet, the former head of security for Israel's El Al.” The story ended with this flourish: “During a recent stop at an airport he declined to identify, Yeffet intentionally set off the magnetometer so the guard would search him, he said. ‘The first thing they said was, take off your shoes,’ Yeffet said. ‘Ahhh, take my shoes. This is security? This is a joke.’” The problem with this story and Yeffet’s derisive comments? It ran the same day as The Post and the nation’s other daily newspapers were reporting the arrest of Richard Reid, who attempted to sabotage an American Airlines flight with a bomb hidden in his shoe.

This column originally appeared at

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