The Tactical Traveler

FOR JANUARY 23 to JANUARY 31, 2002


This week: Why airlines are rushing food back on flights; Southwest expands in Chicago; the meaningless removal of blackout dates on restricted awards; major changes for overseas flights and luxury hotels; and much more.

Have you noticed that the major carriers are rushing to return meals to domestic flights? Food service, such as it was, largely disappeared in the wake of September 11, with most airlines claiming the cuts were both a financial and security imperative. In recent weeks, however, airlines have been restoring breakfast, lunch and dinner service to thousands of domestic flights. But the reappearance of food is hardly a matter of airline largesse. “We’ve been inundated with E-mail from frequent flyers who told us that cutting meals was the last straw,” the director of in-flight service for a major carrier told me Monday. “Basically, they told us that the only difference between us and Southwest was the food and, if we cut food, they were going to fly Southwest." Of course, I can make a better suggestion. If food is that important to you, why eat the swill most domestic airlines serve in the first place? Why not fly a discount carrier, then use the hundreds you save on airfare on a wonderful meal in a great restaurant at your destination?

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Southwest Expands in Chicago
Southwest recorded a profit for the fourth quarter of 2001, making it unique among the nation’s major carriers, which are drowning in red ink. That has encouraged Southwest to resume its expansion. The focus: Chicago/Midway. On March 10, it will increase service between Midway and Phoenix to four daily non-stop flights. The same day, Southwest will launch two daily non-stop flights to Seattle. Then, on April 7, it will launch three daily non-stops flights to Oakland. … Speaking of Oakland, JetBlue is scheduled to add a third daily non-stop flight to its New York/Kennedy hub. One-way fares with a seven-day advance purchase begin at $149; the highest walk-up fare is $299 one-way. … Up in Canada, WestJet continues to expand its nascent hub in Winnipeg. Effective, March 4, the low-fare alternative to Mapleflot will add 12 weekly non-stops between Winnipeg and Regina.

CYBERTRAVELER: Want to Run Airport Security?
Hate how you’re being treated by airport security screeners? Here’s a chance to get some of your own back. To facilitate its takeover of security, the Department of Transportation needs to hire federal security directors at 81 of the nation’s largest airports. And DOT is advertising for candidates on a special Website. The gig pays up to $150,000 a year and the headhunting firm of Korn/Ferry is handling the hiring process. Salient job details, responsibilities and requirements are posted on the Website.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Much Ado About No Blackouts
Airlines are removing the blackout dates on many restricted frequent-flyer awards and that is generating a bushel of publicity for carriers such as Northwest, American and Continental. But the move is much ado about virtually nothing. Since the airlines retain capacity controls on the restricted awards, there is very little chance you’ll be able to use them to claim free seats during peak travel periods. In fact, since airlines refuse to disclose how many--if any--seats they make available for restricted awards, trying to use the low-mileage rewards is akin to playing an unregulated lottery. Bottom line: You’ve got virtually no chance to win. There is only one practical approach to using miles during peak travel periods: Assume the only seats available will require the higher priced, unrestricted awards. Planning for any other contingency is sure to yield disappointment and outrage.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Comings and Goings Around the Globe
Effective February 14, United Airlines is dumping its Chicago/O’Hare-Düsseldorf service. On the same day, however, it launches daily non-stop flights to Düsseldorf from its Washington/Dulles hub. … Varig has resumed its Saturday non-stop service between Miami and Manaus. The flights were cancelled in the days following September 11. … Japan Airlines has launched new “Skysleeper” first-class seats on Flights 5 and 6 between New York/Kennedy and Tokyo/Narita. The leather chairs are 26 inches wide, offer 73 inches of legroom and offer reading lights, personal-video systems, side tables and several storage compartments. … Air Lib has launched twice-daily flights between Paris/Orly and Algiers. Only Alitalia has been flying from Europe to strife-torn Algeria in recent years. … The new managers of Sabena, the Belgian carrier attempting to rebuild itself, say its current rescue plan does not include a resumption of flights to the United States.

IN THE LOBBY: Winners, Losers and Luxury Hotels
The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park is due to open on January 29. The 298-room property, which marks the chain’s return to New York, is located at 2 West Street, in the shadows of Ground Zero. … Speaking of Ritz-Carlton, the chain has lost its outpost in Berlin. The small property, carved out of a turn-of-the-century mansion and renovated by Karl Lagerfeld, was reflagged as a Ritz-Carlton several years ago … Halfway across the globe, in the United Arab Emirates of Dubai, the 394-room Fairmont Dubai opens on February 2. It is the first property outside of North America and the Caribbean for the 38-hotel chain, which has been cobbled together from the bones of at least three predecessors: CP Hotels, Princess Hotels and the old Fairmont group. … The 294-room Hyatt Regency St. Lucia resort, which opened less than two years ago, has run aground. Hyatt will give up management of the property on March 25 and the resort is not taking reservations after that date.

This column originally appeared at

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