The Tactical Traveler



This week: Hotel high-speed Internet access is disrupted; more clubs join Priority Pass; Swissair’s successor premiers on the Web; Amtrak faces extinction; airlines launch more international routes; Air Canada cuts frequent-flyer perks; and much more.

The little railroad that couldn’t, Amtrak, is up against it again. The nation’s government-supported national passenger railroad system had an upward spike in passengers after September 11, but that enthusiasm for rail travel quickly faded and traffic has settled back to traditional levels. Meanwhile, the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), an oversight body, quietly voted in November that the railroad had no chance to meet its Congressionally imposed deadline of ”operational self-sufficiency” by December 2, 2002. That automatically started a 90-day clock forcing Amtrak to draw up plans for its own extinction. That clock has stopped due to an emergency bill signed by President Bush, but the reform council is still required to present its plans for liquidating Amtrak by February 7. Many of ARC’s suggestions are available at a public Website. “Amtrak has pretty much run out of options,” Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead said earlier this week. For the record, Amtrak lost about $950 million in 2000, was on track to lose another $1 billion in 2001, and has consumed more than $24 billion in subsidies since its creation in 1971.

IN THE LOBBY: High-Speed Hotel Access Takes a Hit
If you book your lodgings based on the availability of in-room, high-speed Internet access, better call your hotel directly before you travel. Tens of thousands of hotel rooms around the country have been abruptly severed from their high-speed connections after bankrupt Ardent Communications (formerly Cais Internet) began shedding hotel installations. Among Ardent’s biggest hotel clients: Cendant, which franchises thousands of Days Inn, Ramada, Howard Johnson and Travelodge hotels; more than a hundred Hilton and Hilton Garden Inns; and Hammons, which operates dozens of Embassy Suites, Holiday Inns and Hampton Inns. Worst of all, the outages have been sporadic and unannounced and the hotel chains’ Websites and their central telephone reservations numbers do not have up-to-date information.

AIRPORT REPORT: More Club Options for Weary Travelers
The Euro Cyber Café has opened in Concourse D at Philadelphia International Airport. The facility, located just past the security checkpoint, serves sandwiches and beverages and offers laptop hookups and T-1 connections. … Priority Pass has added 21 new lounges to its club-access program. Six of the lounges are operated by Korean Air and include clubs in Terminal 1 at New York/Kennedy and at Anchorage. The other 15 are United Red Carpet Clubs, but do not include United’s lounges at its Chicago/O’Hare, Denver, and Washington/Dulles hubs. More than 300 lounges in 70 countries are accessible with Priority Pass. Pay-as-you-go membership is $99 a year; unlimited membership costs $295.

CYBERTRAVELER: Is There Life After Swissair?
The embarrassing collapse of Swissair last year shook the airline industry and Switzerland itself, which considered the carrier’s financial meltdown an affront to its vaunted banking system. After limping back to life thanks to a massive government bailout, Swissair is scheduled to disappear on March 31. A new Swiss flag carrier, Swiss Air Lines, is due to begin flying on April 1. The new carrier was announced today (January 31) and is built on the bones of Swissair’s international routes and the short-haul European network of Swissair’s Crossair subsidiary. It will fly to 126 destinations, including nonstops to Switzerland from Boston, Chicago/O’Hare, New York/Kennedy, Newark, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington/Dulles and Montreal. The Swiss Air Lines Website also went live on January 31 and it is an interesting mix of wounded Swiss pride, bravado and practical information on upcoming routes and services. The new carrier, which will be about 30 percent smaller than the old Swissair, says it will honor all Swissair tickets issued for travel after March 31. It is also promising to upgrade Swissair’s coach and business-class cabins, which have been criticized in recent years as below traditional Swiss standards.

INTERNATIONAL INTINERARY: Airlines Increase Overseas Routes
On April 1, Delta Air Lines will launch daily nonstop flights from its Atlanta hub to Milan/Malpensa. Two days earlier, Delta will drop its Frankfurt-Mumbai (Bombay) flights and begin a daily Paris/DeGaulle-Mumbai service. The flight originates at Delta’s New York/Kennedy hub. … American Airlines will launch nonstop flights to Tokyo-Narita from its New York/Kennedy hub on April 19. American will use a three-class Boeing 777 on the route. .. British Airways is juggling its Middle East service. On March 31, it begins a code-share deal with KLM Royal Dutch and the two carriers will cooperate on flights from Europe to Muscat, Oman; Dammam, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai. Separately, BA’s franchise carrier, British Mediterranean, will begin twice-weekly nonstop flights between London/Heathrow and Tehran, Iran. Service on the six-hour route will begin March 14 using 139-seat Airbus A321s.

MILES & POINTS: Air Canada Cuts Its Perks
Air Canada isn’t derisively known as “Mapleflot” for nothing. Despite its near monopoly in Canada and widespread passenger dissatisfaction, Air Canada has gone ahead with controversial cutbacks in its Aeroplan program. The cuts are less oppressive than earlier planned, however, because Air Canada’s best customers let it be known that they would defect to U.S. carriers if the more draconian restrictions were implemented. The biggest hits: Super Elite flyers now can only confirm upgrades seven days in advance; Aeroplan Elite and Prestige flyers now can confirm only 72 and 48 hours before departure, respectively. And less-expensive “V” class tickets are no longer eligible for upgrades at any time. The benefits cut has spawned an anti-Aeroplan Website called Errorplan. In making the cutbacks, Air Canada also made some minor program improvements, including increased mileage for low-priced tickets and slightly lower thresholds for elite status.

This column originally appeared at

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