The Tactical Traveler



In this special end-of-the-year briefing: The TSA wants you to leave checked bags unlocked; Detroit/Metro finally gets its new hotel; bankrupt United charges you to stay loyal; American and Continental ditch the $100 standby fee, but Delta stands fast; US Airways allows online award bookings; expect delays at Phoenix Airport in January; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Last Big Airport Security Test
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) must begin screening all checked bags for explosives by December 31 and the agency will use a patchwork of methods to screen the bags. Expect delays and confusion in the first days of the inspections. One of the screening methods--hand searching of checked bags--is causing particular concern. The TSA has issued a controversial list of "tips" for checked bags: Leave bags unlocked; pack footwear on top of other contents; place "personal belongings" in clear plastic bags "to reduce chances of a TSA screener having to handle them;" spread out--not stack--packed books; and do not pack food or beverages in checked bags. "Leaving bags unlocked will avoid the potential need for them to be opened forcibly," the agency explains. It didn't explain who'd be guarding unlocked bags against pilferage.

AIRPORT REPORT: Detroit/Metro Finally Gets Its New Hotel
Northwest's spiffy looking--if not totally glitch-free--new terminal at Detroit Metro has finally gotten its hotel. The 400-room Westin Detroit Airport opened on December 15, 10 months after the so-called "World Gateway" began operation. ... Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport begins repaving its main runway on January 6. The 7-week project is certain to cause delays. ... The indispensable Salk International's Airport Transit Guide has published its latest edition. The 144-page pocket-sized booklet includes ground-transportation options for 455 airports around the world. It costs $9.95 and is available from Magellan's. ... Watch for airports around the country to begin reopening close-in parking lots now that the Transportation Security Administration has eased some parking restrictions imposed after the September 11th terrorism attacks.

The end-of-the-year travel lull is a great time to clean out your laptop and your laptop bag. Get rid of those old files, disks, pens, scraps of papers, post-it notes, cables, old manuals and other paraphernalia. It might also be a good time to check out two Web sites aimed at the care and feeding of your traveling beast of electronic burden. Laptop Travel specializes in connectivity products. There are quick-connect kits and other devices aimed at getting your laptop working with the various electrical and telephony systems around the world. On the other hand, the On The Road Newsletter site is sort of a coffee klatch of laptop users. All manner of topics are discussed, most of them concerning how business travelers live with--and rage at--their laptop.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Travel Newsletter of the Year
I've been concerned by the precipitous drop of quality travel reporting and commentary in the wake of 9/11. Several travel magazines and newsletters have disappeared and the major travel Web sites have all but abandoned intelligent, non-promotional content. Even the general news sites have been slashing their travel-related reporting and commentary. But in the midst of this bad news comes a lovely and warming ray of light: Dream of Italy. The bi-monthly newsletter is chockablock with useful tips about traveling in Italy, interviews, hotel and restaurant reviews and coverage of Italian culture and major travel destinations. The Dream of Italy Web site offers a flavor of the newsletter and an opportunity to download a free copy of the first issue. Subscriptions are cheap at $45 a year for the paper version and just $35 for Internet subscriptions.

IN THE LOBBY: Hotel News You Can Use
The 220-room Hilton Inn in Little Rock has been rebranded as the Wyndham Riverfront-Little Rock. ... In New Mexico, the 310-room Crowne Plaza Pyramid in Albuquerque has been converted to the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North. ... Watch for the Taj Luxury Hotels division of Taj Hotels to expand now that Raymond Bickson, the much-admired general manager of The Mark Hotel in New York, has been named chief operating officer.

MILES & POINTS: United Charges for the Right to Remain Loyal
Desperate to keep the loyalty of its most frequent flyers now that it has plunged into bankruptcy, United Airlines has decided to charge certain Mileage Plus members for the right to retain their Premier status. Travelers who are short of Premier level must pay United a $25 service fee in order to receive three extra months to qualify. ... US Airways now permits Dividend Miles members to redeem awards online. Another bonus: There is no service charge for last-minute bookings. ... American AAdvantage is offering members a 10,000-mile bonus when they sign up for AT&T Worldnet service.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines and Continental Airlines have followed the lead of United Airlines and eliminated the $100 standby fee that was scheduled to go into effect on January 1. But Delta Air Lines is holding fast. Its $100 standby surcharge remains, but Delta has renamed it a "confirmation fee." ... The United-US Airways code-share goes into effect on January 7. US Airways will put its "US" code on 88 United flights. United will place its "UA" code on 104 US Airways flights. ... American has raised the paper ticket fee to $25.

SECURITY WATCH: Can't Curb-Check? You've Been Chosen
Here's a sign of the times and up-to-the-minute advice: If you try to curb-check your luggage and the Skycap turns you down, be prepared for a "random screening" experience. According to several airline executives I've recently debriefed, a rejection from a Skycap at the curb is an unmistakable sign that you've been flagged for intensive security screening at every step of the process. "Skycaps can't curb-check you if you've been chosen for extra screening," one insider explains. "They won't tell you that you've been chosen because they are not allowed to say, so they'll give you some vague excuse."

THE PARTING SHOT: This is Better Than a Fruitcake
Guests who stay at a Hilton Garden Inn property between December 20 and December 30 receive a pie. The chain says the pie will be "festively boxed and ready to take to that special holiday engagement." However, since this is the travel industry, you have to request the pie and make advance reservations for it using the promotion code "PI." You also have to hope the reservation agent doesn't think you want an algebra book festively wrapped and ready to take to that special holiday engagement.

This column originally appeared at

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