The Tactical Traveler



This week: A disturbing week on the security front; the British mania for beach huts; the Le Meridien hotel chain is disintegrating; a warning on September travel to Cancun; United and Delta part company on frequent-flyer plans and lounge access; Alaska raises checked-bag fees; a museum looks back at Pan Am; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: A Confused and Disturbing Week in Security
It's been a confusing and disheartening week on the travel-security front. A new State Department Worldwide Caution released Tuesday raised the possibility of renewed attacks on airplanes. "Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to suicide operations, hijackings, bombings or kidnappings. These may also involve commer-cial aircraft," State said. At about the same time, however, word leaked out that the Transportation Security Administration was cutting back the air marshal program. Desperate to cover a budget shortfall, the TSA was telling marshals that many long-haul and international flights would no longer be staffed. That created an uproar in Congress, both from Democrats, who have been trying to get more funds for the TSA, and from Republicans, who have been refusing to help the agency close its $1 billion budget gap. Under intense pressure, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pledged on Wednesday that the TSA wouldn't cut back on marshals after all. On Thursday, Ridge's agency released new guidelines for its controversial CAPPS II program. The new rules for CAPPS II, which would electronically profile all passengers, cut back on the amount of information the government would collect. But the new rules drew immediate criticism from privacy activists.

CYBERTRAVELER: Life's a Beach, but the Brits Are Just Weird
As the August holiday exodus is about to begin, I thought it apropos to remind you that life's a beach. And in Britain, beaches have beach huts, teeny, tiny little changing rooms that were the venue of choice in dozens of Monty Python and Benny Hill sketches. The little wooden shacks, usually built on rented land and lacking what the Brits call "mod cons" such as running water or electricity, don't even qualify for mortgages. So why are these bits of summer ephemera selling for upwards of 100,000 each? Beats me. Yet the beach-hut culture has spawned a vast real estate boom and a gaggle of Web sites. Among the best known: Mudeford Beach Huts, Go Coastal and, of course, Beach Huts. They really make you wonder what the Brits put up with just for the chance of a little domestic sun...

IN THE LOBBY: The Le Meridien Chain is Rapidly Disintegrating
The long, strange saga of Le Meridien, once the hotel arm of Air France, took several more strange turns this week. A rescue plan for the debt-riddled chain, fashioned by the man who helped the Nomura investment bank acquire the company in 2001, collapsed in a heap. At the same time, a group fronted by Hyatt Hotels and Lehman Brothers seemed to win the bidding war. Under the plan, Hyatt would run most of the 140-hotel Le Meridien chain as a separate entity. On Thursday, however, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns 11 Le Meridien properties, including The Waldorf and Grovesnor House in London and the Shelbourne in Dublin, put the hotels in receivership, the British equivalent of bankruptcy protection. Those 11 hotels will now be severed from Le Meridien and managed by other hotel companies. RBS acted because Le Meridien owed tens of millions in back rent. Earlier this year, Le Meridien lost its hotels in Dallas and New Orleans due to rent and ownership issues.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: BA Settles Work Dispute at Heathrow
The work action that virtually grounded British Airways at its London/Heathrow hub for several days in mid-July and was on the verge of erupting into a full-fledged strike has been solved. BA seems to be operating at near-normal levels at all stations around the world. ... Finnair says it will launch three weekly nonstop flights from its Helsinki hub to Shanghai on September 2. ... A warning to travelers headed to Cancun during the first two weeks of September. The World Trade Organization is meeting in Cancun from September 7-13. To combat expected disruptions and demonstrations, Mexican police are likely to severely restrict access to Cancun's hotels and tourist areas before and during the WTO functions.

MILES & POINTS: United and Delta Go Their Separate Ways
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have severed their frequent-flyer and airport-lounge ties. Reciprocal access for United Red Carpet and Delta Crown Room members ends on February 29. Mileage accrual ends September 15. You also must book free travel by that date, although travel on free tickets booked by September 15 is valid through February 29. United is now allied with US Airways and Delta is in an alliance with Continental and Northwest. ... American Airlines now offers five AAdvantage miles for every dollar spent at the Sharper Image Web site. ... Diners Club has finally replaced its old Le Card dining-discount program. Diners' Restaurant Savings Program claims to offer 20 percent discounts at 4,000 restaurants around the country.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines has lowered its free checked baggage allowance to 50 pounds. Checked bags weighing between 51 and 70 pounds will cost $25; bags between 71 and 100 pounds will cost $50. The new fees are effective October 1. ... Here's another "benefit" of the code-share between United and US Airways: Connecting passengers on the two carriers at San Francisco International can now use a free bus to shuttle between gates. United and US Airways are located at opposite ends of SFO. ... Northwest Airlines says it will drop its Los Angeles-Honolulu route and replace it with two new nonstop flights to Hawaii. Effective December 17, Northwest will offer daily flights between Seattle and Maui and daily flights between its Minneapolis hub and Honolulu. Both routes will use 273-seat DC-10s configured with business and coach classes.

THE PARTING SHOT: Pan Am Through the Looking Glass of History
As travel in general and business travel in specific gets drearier, the legend of the original Pan Am continues to grow. The one-time "Chosen Instrument" sputtered to an ignominious end at the beginning of the 1990s, but Pan Am dominated the skies from the 1930s through the 1960s and remained an important competitor until the early 1980s. Now a new exhibition at New York's Museum of American Financial History focuses on what many consider Pan Am's Golden Age, from 1935 through 1946. The exhibit includes vintage route maps, ads, signage, postcards and other documents. The show runs through October 31.

This column originally appeared at

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