The Tactical Traveler

FOR FEBRUARY 13 TO 20, 2003


This week: America West will close its Columbus hub; alternate carriers continue to expand; how the two-seat scenario helps you exploit low sale fares; bmi launches flights to Venice; American airports ratchet up security regimens; good free advice about smart travel; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Hubs Come Tumbling Down
America West announced on Monday that it will eliminate its hub in Columbus, Ohio, the latest evidence that the dishonored, disliked and unprofitable Big Six hub-and-spoke system is beginning to come tumbling down. America West closes the Columbus operation on April 1 when it reduces its current schedule of 49 daily flights to four. America West's move comes on the heels of US Airways' recent decision to all but eliminate hub service at Baltimore/Washington and Delta's downsizing at Dallas/Fort Worth, where regional jets will largely replace traditional jet service and reduce capacity by about 10 percent. "As an industry, we're just throwing cash down a black hole at a lot of hubs," one airline executive told me this week. "I'd say that as many as a third of the hubs operating in the United States today will be gone in the next two years."

ALTERNATE AGENDA: The Other Guys Keep Growing and Expanding
While the Big Six are hemorrhaging cash and slashing flights, the alternate carriers are making money and expanding their service. JetBlue Airways, for example, is adding new nonstop flights between its New York/Kennedy and Long Beach, California, hubs. It is also adding more nonstop flights between Kennedy and three other destinations: Buffalo, New York; Oakland, California; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. It will also add more flights between Washington's Dulles Airport and Long Beach. The additional services launch between February 20 and June 26. ... Meanwhile, AirTran says it will begin service to two new destinations. Beginning March 4, it will fly a daily roundtrip between Baltimore/Washington and Grand Bahama Island. Effective May 21, the carrier will launch two daily roundtrips between its Atlanta hub and Denver. ... Up in Canada, WestJet says it will launch nonstop weekday service between Windsor, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. On weekends, it will offer nonstops between Windsor and Calgary, Alberta. The flights begin April 1.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Exploiting the Two-Seat Scenario
As always in February, global airlines are giving away the proverbial store--but only if you're prepared to book in advance and stay over on a Saturday. Well, here's one way to beat the system: Buy two of the cheap seats and create your own private, comfortable world. With the lowest-priced coach seats now selling for as little as one-twelfth the price of a premium-class fare, buying two seats is an incredible bargain. And while occupying two coach seats isn't quite as comfortable as sitting in first or business class, the two-seat scenario offers plenty of personal space and a modicum of privacy. But be warned: You can't just purchase two tickets under your name, walk up to the ticket counter and claim your spaces. You or your travel agent must--repeat, must--call the airline in advance, alert it to your intentions and then buy the tickets via phone. Most carriers will code the second ticket purchase as an "extra seat"--some will even assign it to a Mr. or Ms. E. Seat--and tie it to your itinerary. And be sure to arrange for advance seat assignments--the seats must be next to each other, of course--at the time you call the airline.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Comings and Goings Over There
bmi British Midland is launching two new flights from London/Heathrow. Beginning April 12, the airline will fly a daily roundtrip to both Alicante, Spain, and Venice. The Venice flight is particularly notable since there is only one nonstop to Venice from the United States (Delta flies from New York/Kennedy) and all direct flights to Italy are relatively pricey compared to other European destinations. Flying to Venice and Italy's Northeastern provinces from the United States via London/Heathrow is a good, cost-effective alternative. ... Air New Zealand is dropping flights between Los Angeles and Sydney on April 27. ... Egyptair launches nonstop flights between Cairo and Beijing on May 1. ... And here's something you rarely hear these days: an airline starting service to Israel. Effective June 1, SN Brussels will begin four weekly nonstop flights between Brussels and Tel Aviv. ... Northwest Airlines will launch a nonstop daily flight between Seattle and Osaka, Japan, on June 1. The service operates until October 5.

SECURITY WATCH: Safety and Security News You Need to Know
Hundreds of British troops were deployed at London/Heathrow airport on Tuesday due to heightened fears of a terrorist attack. ... After the Bush Administration declared an Orange Level alert on Friday, U.S. airports began ratcheting up security measures. Expect some of the following new security measures: visual inspection of your car as you enter airport grounds; random searches of your vehicle as you approach close-in parking facilities; total closure of some close-in airport lots or parking structures; increased enforcement of "no standing" rules as you drop off or pick up passengers; and more intensive screening at security checkpoints inside the terminals. ... This shouldn't surprise you, but the State Department issued a raft of Travel Warnings over the weekend for Middle East countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel.

THE PARTING SHOT: Good Free Advice About Smart Travel
MedJet Assistance, which sells a terrific membership program for on-demand emergency travel evacuation, has now produced a nifty little brochure called A Guide to Traveling Smart. It covers the basics of stocking a traveler's medical kit; information about choosing travel-insurance and travel-assistance programs; risk management; and tips for dealing with dehydration and jet lag. Best of all, the brochure is free for the asking when you call MedJet Assistance at 800-963-3538.

This column originally appeared at

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