The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 9 TO May 16, 2002


This week: Beware of "national" cell-phone plans that aren't; Southwest jumps into the transcon market; Northwest continues to stumble in Detroit; an online survey is tracking the opinion of business travelers; and Ritz-Carlton's Florida empire hits some snags.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: When National Cell-Phone Plans Aren't
Flat-rate, nationwide calling plans that charge no long-distance or roaming fees have been a boon for business travelers. But cell-phone companies now seem to be taking a page from the airline pricing manual. Several have introduced "national" plans that sound like flat-rate plans, but aren't. AT&T Wireless, which pioneered flat-rate plans four years ago with its "Digital OneRate," recently introduced the "National Network" calling scheme. Sounds great and sounds nationwide--but it ain't. Calls made off the AT&T network are charged at 69 cents a minute for roaming and 20 cents a minute for long distance. Verizon's newest calling plan, "America's Choice," is touted as a national plan like its flat-rate "National SingleRate" plan, but it's not. Calls made off the Verizon network run up roaming fees of 65 cents a minute. Sprint has never even had a nationwide calling plan. Its "Free and Clear" plan is actually neither. Call off its network and you'll pay 69 cents a minute for roaming and 25 cents for long distance. Bottom line: If you're looking for a nationwide calling plan, check the fine print carefully and make sure there are never any long-distance or roaming charges.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Southwest Breaches the Final Frontier
It was only a matter of time: Southwest Airlines has announced it will be adding nonstop, transcontinental service to its mix of low-fare, shorter-haul flights. Beginning September 15, the 800-pound gorilla of low-fare airlines will launch twice-daily nonstops between Baltimore/Washington and Los Angeles. The introductory price: $99 each way for travel between September 15 and October 25. And while it was lost in the media frenzy surrounding the announcement of Southwest's first-ever transcon service, the airline also announced a slew of new shorter-haul flights. Effective September 15, Southwest will add nonstops between St. Louis and Las Vegas. On October 6, it will also add frequencies on service between two New England cities--Providence and Manchester--and two Florida destinations, Orlando and Tampa.

AIRPORT REPORT: Brand New Terminal, Same Old Northwest
For years, Northwest blamed cramped quarters at its Detroit hub for the airline's miserable on-time record. But now the airline has a splashy new terminal at Detroit/Metro and the mile-long, $1.2 billion facility is optimized for ease of aircraft movement. The result? Northwest still has a miserable on-time record in Detroit. According to Transportation Department figures for March, the carrier's first full month at the new terminal, Northwest racked up five of the nation's ten most-delayed flights. Northwest Flight 1788 (DTW-Philadelphia), the nation's worst flight, was delayed 96 percent of the time in March for an average of 53 minutes. Second on the list was Northwest Flight 329 (DTW-Memphis), delayed 93 percent of the time for an average of 46 minutes. That was followed by Northwest Flight 765 (DTW-Minneapolis), delayed 90 percent of the time for an average of 44 minutes. Number six was Northwest Flight 269 (DTW-Seattle), delayed 87 percent of the time for an average of 39 minutes. Tenth on the list of shame was Northwest Flight 171 (DTW-Chicago/O'Hare), delayed 83 percent of the time for an average of 33 minutes.

CYBERTRAVELER: Speak Out on the Issues Online
Kevin Mitchell's Business Travel Coalition, which has been generating reams of useful and insightful reports and surveys about corporate travel, is now turning its attention to individual business travelers. It's conducting an online survey about a variety of issues vital to our lives on the road. Among the topics: whether you're replacing air travel with car or train travel; your thoughts on a "trusted traveler" program; your feelings about low-fare carriers and your judgments about the major airlines. You can register your opinions at a special BTC poll page. I urge you to participate since Mitchell's reports generate huge amounts of publicity for and interest in business travel.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
AirTran, which made a noisy entrance last year when it began competing on flights between US Airways' Pennsylvania hubs in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, quietly withdrew from the route this week. ... A 120-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened at Spokane Airport. ... The nascent Ritz-Carlton empire in South Florida still has a few bugs in the system. Ritz got its resort in Key Biscayne open last year, but properties in South Beach and Coconut Grove have been delayed by construction disputes. The Coconut Grove hotel may open late this summer, but the South Beach property now has been delayed indefinitely. ... The State Department says all U.S. passports must now be issued in the United States. Overseas embassies and consulates will only issue emergency-travel passports with limited validity. ... From the double-whammy department: A British medical researcher believes fear of flying may be a cause of deep-vein thrombosis.

This column originally appeared at

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