The Tactical Traveler

FOR JULY 8 TO JULY 22, 2004


This week: The political conventions mean you should avoid Boston and New York for parts of this summer; Frontier and Spirit drop flights to Big Six hubs; the TSA starts a "registered traveler" test in Minneapolis; BA moves its Detroit terminal; Dulles wilts under the pressure of the fight between United and Independence Air; turning Entebee Airport into a national-heritage site; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Boston and New York Are Summer No-Fly Zones
If you've had any doubt at all about whether you can do business in Boston and New York during this summer's political conventions, rest assured: You CANNOT. As the convention dates approach--Boston hosts the Democrats from July 26 to 29 and New York has the Republicans from August 30 to September 2--the true nature of the "new normal" is hitting home. Both cities will close streets surrounding the venues, Boston plans to shutter some expressways and parts of its mass-transit system and New York will "freeze" huge chunks of Manhattan whenever VIPs like the President and Vice President move around town. And then there is the terrorism issue: "We basically feel we have a target painted on our back," one high-ranking New York cop told me this week. Bottom line: There is probably no good business reason to be in either Boston or New York the week before and the week of the respective conventions.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Frontier and Spirit Cry Uncle
The fast growth of alternate airlines after 9/11 has been remarkable, but it doesn't mean that the rational-fare carriers are impregnable. The Big Six carriers have shown a willingness to bleed tens of millions via fare cuts, capacity dumping and other tricks in their efforts to keep alternate airlines out of their fortress hubs. The latest to learn this lesson: Frontier and Spirit, which have announced an end to routes into several Big Six hubs. Frontier Airlines, which has been trying to build a new point-to-point operation in Los Angeles, will be dropping its twice-daily flights to Northwest's Minneapolis hub on August 15. Frontier's Los Angeles service was launched in April, but Northwest promptly responded with added capacity and fare cuts to Los Angeles and then began its own flights between Los Angeles and Denver, Frontier's hub. Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines is giving up the ghost on its flights from Denver to Detroit and Fort Lauderdale. The service ends on September 7. Spirit was competing with both United and Northwest on Denver-Detroit and with Frontier and United's Ted on Denver-Fort Lauderdale.

AIRPORT REPORT: 'Registered Travel' Test Begins in Minneapolis
After more than two years of politicking and technical delays, the Transportation Security Administration this week began its first test of a "registered traveler" program at Minneapolis/St. Paul. Travelers participating in the program must submit to fingerprinting, iris scan and background check. What do they get in exchange? Marginally faster passage through an express security line--but they still must have carry-on bags X-rayed and pass through a magnetometer. ... American Airlines has opened an Admirals Club on the new Concourse A at Seattle-Tacoma. The club is across from Gate A9. ... British Airways has switched its Detroit-London flights to the Northwest WorldPort at Detroit/Metro. First- and business-class passengers have access to the Flight Deck Observation Lounge in the adjacent Westin Hotel. The hotel has its own security checkpoint. ... Iberia, the Spanish airline, is closing its Latin American hub based at Miami. ... Concourse C has opened in Anchorage and the airport's primary tenant, Alaska Airlines, has opened a Board Room club there. Alaska has exclusive use of all nine gates on Concourse C.

CYBERTRAVELER: Blogging the News You Need to Read
Christopher Elliott, who now runs more travel Web sites than I can keep track of, has still another project: a daily blog that links to many of the day's breaking travel news stories from around the Internet. You can view Chris' most recent blog and, even better, sign up for daily E-mail notification whenever the latest blog has posted.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Things Are Getting Ugly at Dulles
I warned you back in April about the chaos that was inevitable at Washington/Dulles when United Airlines split with its longtime Express partner, Atlantic Coast, which has been morphing into Independence Air. And, sadly, my prediction has come true in spades. In May, the last full month Atlantic Coast operated as United Express, it registered a worst-in-the-nation on-time rating of 69.4 percent. In other words, more than three in ten United Express flights at Dulles ran late in May. And according to other May rankings in the government's latest Air Travel Consumer Report, Atlantic Coast/United Express also racked up a worst-in-the-nation rating for lost baggage (11.98, almost three times the industry average). And it was second-highest in the number of cancelled flights (4.1 percent of its schedule, about 2.5 times worse than the industry average). Don't think things have improved much lately, either. As Independence Air launches its own flights and United scrambles to maintain its Express schedule, delays and security lines are growing. Right now, Dulles travelers are enduring hour-long security delays during the morning (6 to 8 a.m.) and early evening (3 to 5 p.m.) rush hours.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
If you ever feel flight crews are a bit too haughty, take heart. They apply the heavy-handed approach equally. One example: a Hawaiian Airlines pilot threw the airline's bankruptcy trustee off a recent flight scheduled to fly from Honolulu to San Francisco. The pilot said he "wasn't comfortable" with trustee Joshua Gotbaum on board. Several days earlier, Gotbaum had proposed cutting pilot pensions and creating a management bonus plan. ... Moscow travelers take note: Aeroflot and Finnair now code-share on the Helsinki-Moscow route. If you fly to Moscow via Helsinki as a way to avoid Aeroflot, make sure you're booking a Finnair-operated flight beyond Helsinki. ... Continental Airlines has resumed code-sharing on Copa Airlines flights from Panama City to ten destinations, including Miami and Los Angeles. ... United Airlines tried to raise international fares 5 percent last week, but the effort failed when other carriers refused to match.

THE PARTING SHOT: Commemorating a Dark Moment in Aviation
The government of Uganda says it will turn Entebee Airport into a national heritage site. The airport was the scene of a 1976 raid by Israeli commandos that freed more than 100 hostages on an Air France plane hijacked by the Palestine Liberation Organization. At the time, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had placed the airport and the country's armed services at the disposal of the hijackers and the PLO. Entebee was never used after the rescue mission since Amin was already building a new airport for the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Entebee has been deteriorating ever since and it is now overgrown with weeds, vines and other vegetation.

This column originally appeared at

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