The Tactical Traveler

FOR APRIL 29 TO MAY 6, 2004


This week: US Airways' bizarre competitive response to Southwest in Philadelphia; book away from Alitalia as it melts down; a slew of new hotels open around the country; BA introduces 'sleeper service' on many night flights; TSA employees in Detroit accused of stealing laptops from travelers' bags; Delta goes to 'zone boarding' on most international flights; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: US Airways' Bizarre Philadelphia Story
If you were expecting US Airways to mount a brilliant counteroffensive against the upcoming assault of Southwest Airlines in Philadelphia, you've once again been burned by the stupidity of a Big Six carrier. More than six months after Southwest announced its entry into the crucial US Airways hub and just days before Southwest begins flying in Philadelphia on May 9, US Airways announced what only the most charitable observers could call a competitive response. Once you get past the bizarre high-school stuff--car washes and pizzas that employees will apparently be passing out around town--US Airways' new GoFares mimic the simplicity of Southwest's lowest prices in the 13 initial markets where the two carries will compete. Shockingly, however, US Airways is telling walk-up customers (in other words, business travelers) in those markets that they will pay up to $499 one-way compared to Southwest's highest fare of $299. Worse, US Airways prices have hardly changed on the Philadelphia routes where Southwest is not yet flying. On the 449-mile Philadelphia-Charlotte route, for example, Philadelphia Inquirer aviation reporter Tom Belden noted that "a business traveler could have paid more than $1,000 this month. Next month, the fare for a last-minute trip to Charlotte will be $953."

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Time to Book Away From Alitalia
Despite sexy ads and the image of Italian sophistication, Alitalia has never been a reliable airline. Regular travelers to Italy know that the airline has been plagued for decades by labor strife, frequent strikes, huge financial losses, political in-fighting and infuriatingly regular delays and cancellations. The situation worsened this week when Alitalia management abruptly shut down almost all of the network on Thursday after wildcat strikes on Wednesday. Service will continue to be disrupted for days to come. Bottom line: Alitalia is melting down as Italian politicians, the airline's unions and this week's management group argue over a supposed rescue plan. Book away. And remember that some Delta flights to Italy and SkyTeam flights beyond Rome and Milan are actually code-shares operated by Alitalia.

IN THE LOBBY: More Hotels in More Places
Hoteliers claim that business travel is firming up. For their sake, let's hope that they are right because there seems to be an endless stream of new hotels in the pipeline. In New York, for example, the 187-room Hotel Gansevoort has opened in the city's gritty, but trendy, meat-packing district. The Blakely, a 120-room replacement for the old Gorham hotel is due to open in Midtown over the weekend. And Kimpton will open 70 Park Avenue, a replacement for the old Doral Park Avenue, this summer. ... In Boston, Kimpton is planning to open the 112-room Onyx Hotel near Fanueil Hall in May. ... In the Bay Area, Joie de Vivre is due to reopen the renovated Hotel Carlton in San Francisco. The 160-room property near Union Square should be ready by Memorial Day. In June, Joie de Vivre will open the renovated, 86-room Hotel Montgomery in downtown San Jose. ... And the Gaylord Texan has opened in Grapevine near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. The huge property has 1,511 rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting space.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: No Food, More Sleep on BA Night Flights
British Airways has launched Sleeper Service in business class on many evening fights leaving from East Coast airports and some flights from the Middle East to London. The idea is that BA minimizes in-flight services and noise and focuses on offering quiet cabins so travelers can maximize their sleep time. Two examples: Full in-flight meals are no longer served and travelers dine in a BA airport club before departure. Only snacks are available during the flight and breakfast is served just 40 minutes before arrival. BA says it has also upgraded the quality of the blankets and pillows that accompany the lie-flat beds in business class. The airline claims the Sleeper Service creates more than an hour of extra in-flight sleep time. More details are available at a special Sleeper Service page. ... Delta Air Lines has switched to "zone boarding" on most of its international flights. Travelers board by zone number rather than row number. Delta switched to the zone system on domestic flights in January. ... Air Tahiti Nui says it will launch nonstop flights between New York and Tahiti next year.

SECURITY WATCH: Watch Your Laptop in Detroit
Here's a story that will send chills down the collective spine of business travelers. Four former Transportation Security Administration employees in Detroit have been indicted on charges that they stole laptop computers and other electronics from luggage being screened at security checkpoints. According to the indictment, the four security screeners would steal computers, digital and video cameras and video games from passengers' bags, then resell the equipment to other TSA employees. The other TSA workers were not aware the equipment was stolen, prosecutors said. The thefts allegedly occurred during a four-month period last year. .... Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Secretary of State Colin Powell are urging Congress to delay the implementation of a federal law that requires visitors from 27 nations to carry high-tech passports. The law, passed in the wake of the 9/11 security attacks, is supposed to go into effect in October. Powell and Ridge want the delay because the 27 countries in question--mostly industrialized European and Asian nations--will not be ready to issue the advanced passports. Of course, Powell and Ridge are still in favor of the immediate implementation of CAPPS II, an intrusive, bug-riddled passenger-screening system that will invade the privacy of every American citizen who chooses to travel. In other words, the Bush Administration is fine with harassing Americans who travel within their own country, but wants to repeal the law that tightens security requirements for overseas visitors.

This column originally appeared at

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