The Tactical Traveler



This week: Flight cuts could cause travel chaos this fall; Amtrak stops Acela Express service; US Airways' historical idiocies; hotel workers in three cities may strike; Delta now charges $40 for a third checked bag; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Prepare for the Fall Flying Follies
American, United and US Airways have all announced that sizable service cutbacks are coming this fall and logic dictates that Delta, Northwest and Continental will soon follow. The upshot? Lots of ruined trips and last-minute jockeying for seats throughout the fall and during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. "I've already told my travelers that they should assume nothing is written in stone," a travel manager at a Fortune 500 company told me Wednesday. "None of the carriers will tell me what flights are being cut or whether they'll even continue to fly on any route." How do you protect yourself? My best suggestion is to fly the smaller guys domestically, especially Southwest and JetBlue, two carriers who are making money and whose schedules seem secure, predictable and reliable. The schedules of Frontier, AirTran and Midwest Express are also likely to remain stable. Internationally, look to book overseas carriers. Many of them are making money and are actually adding flights back to their schedules.

AMTRAK UPDATE: Acela Remains Out of Service
Amtrak abruptly pulled all of its high-speed Acela Express trains off the Northeast Corridor routes on Tuesday. The problem? A series of maintenance flaws, cracks and other defects in the high-speed trains. Travelers between Boston and Washington who hold Acela Express tickets are being shunted to older, slower Metroliner service and the misnamed Acela Regional service, which is the current Amtrakspeak for local trains. There seems to be no timetable for returning the Acela fleet to service. Check the Amtrak home page for updates.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Inept Historical Legacy of US Airways
When US Airways filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, the official spin was that the airline's troubles were caused by September 11 and subsequent restrictions at its Washington/National hub. In point of historic fact, US Airways is in the tank because it has suffered through 15 years of inept, rapacious management. Consider: In 1986, it purchased PSA, which then controlled half of the intra-California market. Within six years, Southwest had driven USAir entirely out of California. In 1987, USAir bought Piedmont. Within several years, USAir had closed Piedmont's efficient Dayton hub and Southwest had driven it off Piedmont's once-dominant network of intra-Florida flights. And after mangling Piedmont's Baltimore-Washington hub, US Airways has now all but exited BWI. It suffered five fatal crashes in five years during the early 1990s and one was directly attributable to using Piedmont's Florida fleet for unsuitable Northeast winter flying. In 1996, USAir hired Stephen Wolf to run the carrier. He paid himself and his cronies hundreds of million of dollars and destroyed the carrier. In 1996, he dismantled a workable alliance with British Airways. He launched MetroJet, now shuttered. In 2000, he abandoned a profitable alliance with American and tried to sell the carrier to United. That deal never stood a chance of regulatory approval, yet Wolf had no back-up plan, so the carrier was on track to lose almost $1 billion in 2001 when September 11 dawned.

IN THE LOBBY: Hotel Workers in Several Cities Vote to Strike
Headed to Chicago, Toronto or Honolulu in the coming weeks? Then be warned that hotel workers in those cities are talking strike. In Chicago, union workers at two dozen downtown hotels have authorized a strike when their contracts expire on August 31 if no agreement is reached with hotel management. In Toronto, talks between a union representing workers and three major hotels (Delta Chelsea, Toronto Hilton and Sheraton Centre) have broken off. A strike or a lockout is possible at any time. And in Honolulu, union workers at four Sheraton hotels and the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki have voted to strike if contract talks break down. Their contracts ended earlier this year. The hotel unions in Chicago and Honolulu are also winning the publicity game. Both have put up slick Web sites with links to local newspaper stories about the contract negotiations.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The Transportation Security Administration has deployed federal security screeners at 13 more airports, including Newark (one terminal); Providence, Rhode Island; and Raleigh-Durham. ... Delta Air Lines now officially limits travelers to two free checked bags. A third checked bag will now cost $40 and all other checked items will be charged as excess baggage. ... Commuter carrier Mesa Airlines has fired a pilot who tested positive for alcohol before operating a scheduled US Airways Express flight from Little Rock to Charlotte. ... Delta Connection carrier Comair is supporting a pilot who threw an Israeli diplomat off a flight from Cincinnati to Toronto. Comair claims the diplomat hadn't followed proper procedures, but he had been sitting on the plane for 30 minutes and was being escorted by U.S. State Department officials.

THE 9/11 REPORT: National, Payless Make Offers
The Big Six airlines and the nation's major hotels continue their embarrassed and embarrassing silence on the topic of promoting travel on September 11. The day may now set records for low aircraft load factors and low hotel occupancy rates, but the travel industry seems unable and unwilling to rouse itself. However, several smaller providers have responded. Spirit Airlines, which last week offered its entire inventory of 13,000 daily seats for free on September 11, is now sold out. Las Vegas-based National Airlines is offering coach seats on September 11 for $1 and is selling first-class seats for as low as $41. And Payless Car Rental says it will offer the first day free on any car rental at a U.S. airport location for the week of September 9 to 13.

This column originally appeared at

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