The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 21 to AUGUST 28, 2003


This week: Transportation Department statistics reveal the nation's worst carrier; low-fare carriers expand everywhere; fighting CAPPS II again; new hotels open in New Orleans and Budapest; Emirates is slowly making its way to the USA; Southwest now carries more domestic travelers than any airline; Northwest upgrades its business class; airlines are backing off the 'use it or lose it' rule; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Worst Airline in America Is...
The next time that one of your desk-bound friends asks you to name the nation's worst airline, give them a definitive answer: Atlantic Southeast Airlines, the Delta Connection carrier. According to the Transportation Department's Air Travel Consumer Report, ASA is running dead last in all the major categories of consumer service. It's on-time performance of 72.5 percent ranks it 17th out of 17 reporting carriers and 10 points below the industry average. ASA also has the highest percentage of flights that arrive late 70 percent of the time; in fact, ASA's late-flight rate is six times the industry average. It is tied with another commuter carrier, Atlantic Coast, for the highest percentage of cancelled flights each month. And ASA's mishandled-baggage rate of 14.75 reports per 1,000 passengers is not only the worst in the nation, it is also 3.5 times worse than the 17-carrier industry average.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: More Low-Fare Carriers Everywhere
As the Big Six continue to shrink, both by dropping flights and by shunting service to their commuter carriers, the nation's alternate airlines continue to expand. The biggest news comes from America West, which says it will begin transcontinental nonstop service. Beginning October 26, it will fly between Los Angeles and Boston and New York/Kennedy. The carrier will also fly nonstop from San Francisco to New York/Kennedy (on December 19) and Boston (March 1). Business fares on the route begin at $299 each way in coach. America West also offers first-class cabins on the Airbus A319s that it will use on the routes. ... Meanwhile, the battle between JetBlue Airways and Delta on routes between Delta's Atlanta hub and the West Coast continues. Delta has nearly doubled its flights to the Los Angeles area since JetBlue launched three daily flights from its Long Beach hub to Atlanta. As a result, JetBlue will trim its Long Beach-Atlanta schedule to one daily flight on September 8, but will add a daily flight from Oakland to Atlanta. ... Denver-based Frontier Airlines will launch two daily flights to John Wayne/Orange County on August 31. ... Finally, Southwest, the newly crowned 800-pound gorilla of the American skies (see "On the Fly") is adding new service, too. Effective September 10, it will add nonstop daily flights from Las Vegas to Manchester, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Connecticut. It will also add Saturday-only flights to Detroit. And on October 5, Southwest will begin nonstop daily flights between Las Vegas and Raleigh-Durham.

CYBERTRAVELER: Scannell Fights the Good Privacy Fight--Again
Bill Scannell became the nation's point man against the Transportation Security Administration's first iteration of CAPPS II, an unnecessarily intrusive passenger-screening program, when he launched the Boycott Delta site. His theory was that Delta was "collaborating" with a bad government program and travelers should react by boycotting Delta. Thanks largely to publicity generated by Scannell, TSA backed down. But TSA's newest version of CAPPS II has also been roundly criticized--Scannell calls it "invasive and un-American" --and Scannell is back at the cyber ramparts with Don't Spy on Us. This site targets TSA's new partner: Galileo, the computer-reservation system owned by Cendant, which is also the parent company of Avis Rent a Car and more than almost a dozen hotel chains. Spend a few minutes at Scannell's new site and you'll be shocked at how thoroughly the TSA is suggesting your privacy be violated in exchange for the "privilege" of flying.

IN THE LOBBY: The Flags Keep Shifting and Hotels Keep Opening
Two notable hotel openings: The 217-room Renaissance Arts has opened in a 95-year-old warehouse in New Orleans's Warehouse/Arts District. And the 351-room Sofitel Atrium Budapest has opened on the Danube in Pest's District V. The property has two restaurants, a fitness center and a casino. ... Get out the Velcro: The 404-room Doubletree Dallas/Plano hotel in the Legacy Town Center has been reflagged as the Marriott Dallas/Plano. And the former Richelieu hotel in San Francisco's Cathedral Hill neighborhood has been converted to a LaQuinta. The 168-room hotel is offering opening rates as low as $89 a night. ... The 489-room Kalia Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki is scheduled to reopen on September 1. The two-year-old, $95 million tower at the 3,500-room resort has been closed for more than a year as Hilton cleaned up an infestation of mold.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Emirates Heads to the USA--Slowly
Emirates, the much-admired, Dubai-based airline that doesn't yet fly to the United States, has taken its first, tentative steps to launch service to North America. This week it forged a code-share deal with Continental Airlines. Effective September 15, Emirates will put its "EK" code on Continental's flights from Newark and Houston to London/Gatwick. Passengers can connect there with Emirates' own flights to the carrier's hub in Dubai. The code-share deal doesn't mean Emirates won't be launching its own U.S. service, however. After more than two years of delays due to 9/11 and unrest in the Middle East, Emirates says it hopes to launch nonstop flights to New York as early as April and service to the West Coast late next year. Emirates hasn't yet decided whether it will use Newark or Kennedy Airport for its New York gateway and is still evaluating both San Francisco and Los Angeles for its West Coast flights.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Who's the biggest carrier of them all? If you go by domestic passenger enplanements, it's Southwest. For the first time since the Transportation Department has been keeping records, Southwest in May boarded more passengers than any supposedly "full-service" airline. ... Northwest says its new Airbus A330s will have an upgraded business class with seats that recline to an almost-flat position. The "bed" is 79 inches long. The seat itself is 20.25 inches wide with 60 inches of legroom. The new business class will debut next month when Northwest's first A330s go into service and will be retrofitted into the carrier's fleet of 747-400s. ... Four of the Big Six--American, Delta, Continental and Northwest--have now climbed down from the most onerous conditions of last year's "use it or lose it rule." American began the retreat earlier this week when it announced that travelers will have up to one year to reschedule and reuse nonrefundable tickets. Until this week, travelers who did not immediately rebook their travel when they cancelled flights lost the value of their tickets. ... Frequent flyer Steve Belkin has posted an interesting mileage-generation tactic at Milespy. It entails buying bulk subscriptions to Inside Flyer and then converting the Diners Club points you earn for the purchases into British Airways miles. Belkin claims $1,740 in subscriptions will create enough miles for a business-class award on British Airways. The strategy will work until August 31.

THE PARTING SHOT: Park and Sleep at the Airport
If you've given up trying to park at the airport, check out this new promotion. Radisson is offering a Park, Stay & Fly package at more than 40 of its airport hotels. The deal offers a night of lodging at a Radisson airport property, up to 14 days of parking and bonus Gold Points. The price and the number of parking days varies by hotel, of course. The offer is valid until December 30.

This column originally appeared at

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