The Tactical Traveler



This week: Most major carriers partially match US Airways' use-it-or-lose-it rule; Spirit adds an upgraded coach class; airlines give executive bonuses while demanding rank-and-file givebacks; United raises upgrade prices; carriers slash thousands of flights on September 11; the FAA imposes special 9/11 air-travel rules at New York and Washington airports; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Major Carriers Choose Chaos and Suicide
Despite an unprecedented outcry from passengers and corporations, at least four of the Big Six have now partially matched US Airways' move to make nonrefundable tickets worthless if a traveler misses his flight. One by one, American, Continental, Northwest and Delta have adopted rules that make a nonrefundable fare a use-it-or-lose-it ticket. But each airline put in its own wrinkles and all except US Airways permit standbys on the same day for an additional fee. The result? Total chaos. "It's going to be nuts the first snowstorm," one dissenting airline executive told me this week. "We've told people there are no more 'waivers or favors,' but now we're going to have thousands of people getting waivers whenever the weather gums up the airports or the approach roads." My advice to you: Help the major carriers commit suicide by booking away from any airline that forces you to buy a ticket, then demands you cannot use your purchase reasonably and rationally. Among the larger carriers not matching the suicidal rule as of mid-day September 5: United; America West; Alaska; Southwest; JetBlue; Spirit and National airlines.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Spirit Adds an Upgraded Coach Cabin
Low-fare Spirit Airlines is now courting business travelers. Effective September 5, it has launched an upgraded coach cabin called "Spirit Plus." It offers 2x2 leather seating, dedicated check-in, priority boarding and free snacks and cocktails. The premium: $40 one-way. ... National Airlines, which offers low-fare, two-class flights from its Las Vegas hub, has reached a $112 million financing deal. The carrier now says it will emerge from bankruptcy protection as early as next month. ... The Big Six airlines say no one is flying. Don't tell that to JetBlue Airways. Its August traffic soared 104 percent on a capacity increase of 95 percent. Its load factor (the percentage of seats filled) in August was a staggering 90.5 percent.

AIRPORT REPORT: Newark Gets a New Name
Newark Airport is officially changing its name to "Newark Liberty International Airport" to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. ... Lufthansa has moved its Detroit/Metro flights into the Northwest terminal that opened in February. ... Hertz has extended its Prestige Collection of upscale autos to seven European airports: London/Heathrow and London/Gatwick; Paris/DeGaulle; Nice; Frankfurt; Munich and Dusseldorf. ... America West is increasing its baggage check time. Systemwide, bags must be checked at least 30 minutes before departure. Bags in Denver and Atlanta must be checked 45 minutes prior to departure. ... Milan/Linate airport has reopened after a three-week shutdown for repairs.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Fiddling While Their Airlines Burn
Historians have indisputably established that the Emperor Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned. Sadly, we have equally indisputable proof that top airline executives are fiddling while their airlines are burning. At Continental Airlines, top executives at the carrier have voted themselves bonuses of more than 60 percent of their base salary for the year. The quarterly bonuses were disclosed in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Continental has lost more than $300 million in the first half of the year and expects continued heavy losses. ... Over at US Airways, the airline is asking the bankruptcy court for permission to pay $6 million in bonuses to a group of 500 managers. The request comes at the same US Airways is demanding gigantic concessions from rank-and-file employees and petitioning the bankruptcy court for permission to break previously signed contracts. ... And at United Airlines, where losses in the last 18 months are about $3 billion, at least one top executive has been bumping paying customers for his own comfort. Most recent example: The executive and one of his children flew first class to Hong Kong for a long weekend. This resulted in two full-fare customers being denied boarding.

MILES & POINTS: US Airways Stands Alone on Elite Cutback
More than a week has passed and not a single carrier has matched US Airways' decision to slash the elite level of its Dividend Miles program. US Airways said 10 days ago that low-fare tickets would no longer earn credit toward elite status. ... United Mileage Plus members will pay more for upgrades. Effective October 1, elite members will pay $200 for a book of four, 500-mile upgrades. All other members will pay $325. The airline has also slashed other benefits for upgrade use, so check the policies carefully. ... Omni Hotels has joined both the Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage program. ... Virgin Atlantic will join the Delta SkyMiles program on October 1.

9/11 UPDATE: Sit Down and Shut Up
The Federal Aviation Administration has imposed special rules for September 11 air travel in the skies over New York and Washington, D.C. Passengers must stay seated for 30 minutes after takeoff and prior to landing at New York/Kennedy, New York/LaGuardia, Newark, Washington/National, Baltimore/Washington and Washington/Dulles. Because of other special events in the New York area--including President Bush speaking at the United Nations on September 12--the 30-minute rule extends until 8 p.m. on September 13 for the New York airports. ... Government aviation and security experts have backed off an idea that would have banned foreign flag carriers from U.S. airports on September 11. ... The major U.S. airlines refused to create a promotion to get people traveling on September 11 and now they are reaping the reward for their intransigence and lack of creativity. According to data compiled by OAG for the Financial Times, U.S. airlines will cut more than 3,200 flights from their domestic schedules on September 11. That is about 11 percent of their current schedules. International carriers are also canceling some flights to U.S. cities. ... Among the gestures planned for 9/11: driving with your car headlights turned on during daylight hours.

SECURITY CHECK: No One Cares Who Packed Your Luggage
In case you haven't flown in the last 10 days: Airlines are no longer required to ask those hoary old security questions at check-in. ... The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has restated its policy on liquids: You are permitted to carry beverages in a paper or foam container through walk-through metal detectors. Beverages in plastic, glass, metal or ceramic containers must pass through the X-ray machines. Those containers must be resealable, however, or they will not be permitted in the X-ray machines. Finally, the TSA says security-screening personnel are specifically barred from asking you to drink or eat any items carried through security checkpoints. ... Speaking of the TSA, it reported that federal screeners are in place at 82 airports. Most airports in that group have only been partially federalized, however, so you'll find a mix of federal and private screeners. ... A federal air marshal aimed his gun at passengers aboard a Delta Air Lines flight last week. The TSA claimed the marshal drew his weapon to break up an altercation with an unruly passenger and then to make other passengers take their seats, but no passengers were arrested or detained when the plane arrived in Philadelphia.

STRIKE WATCH: Air France Faces a Weekend Work Action
Air France is slashing flights in anticipation of pilots mounting a four-day work action starting Friday, September 6. Be warned: Delta Air Lines places its code on many Air France flights. ... Negotiations collapsed last week between Midwest Express management and its flight attendants. However, no disruptions have been reported as late as mid-day Thursday, September 5. ... More than 24 hotels in Chicago avoided a strike with unionized workers by reaching an at-the-deadline settlement last weekend.

This column originally appeared at

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