The Tactical Traveler

Word to the Wise: Reschedule Your End-of-July Flights
Stormy summer weather, too many scheduled flights and cut-to-the-bone staffing levels have created a toxic stew of last-minute cancellations at the end of the month. If you've got flights planned for the last few days of July, especially between July 27 and July 31, you'd be wise to rework your itineraries to fly earlier this month or during the first few days of August. Do the same for flying you may have already planned for late August; move the itinerary to earlier in the month or push the flights back to early September. One example of the end-of-month schedule crisis: United Airlines cancelled more than 180 flights during the last weekend of June and thousands of travelers were stranded because there were no empty seats to accommodate them on the remaining flights. The root of the problem is, as usual, the arrogance of the Big Six carriers. They schedule too many flights with too few flight crews available to operate them. Then when thunderstorms and other disruptive summer weather causes long flight delays earlier in a month, flight crews burn through their federally mandated maximum duty time. That means those crews are legally unable to work their scheduled end-of-month flights. And since the airlines don't have enough reserve crews on staff, large chunks of the end-of-month schedule must be cancelled.

Northwest Takes Up Permanent Residence on the Brink
The apparently endless battle between bankrupt Northwest Airlines and its flight attendants has taken several more twists and the current date to watch is Monday, July 17. That's when Northwest Airlines is legally free to impose a concession-laden contract on flight attendants. The flight attendants overwhelmingly rejected that contract in voting last month and last week they replaced their union. The new union, the Association of Flight Attendants, says that it will strike systemwide or conduct local disruptions if Northwest unilaterally imposes the rejected contract. Also clouding Northwest's future is the situation at bankrupt Mesaba, a large Airlink commuter carrier. Mesaba's bankruptcy-court judge in May refused to allow the airline to void its union contracts, but the airline appealed the ruling. All of Mesaba's major unions--pilots, mechanics and flight attendants--say they will strike if the judge changes his mind. Comair, a Delta-owned commuter carrier, is also trying to convince its bankruptcy-court judge to rethink his decision to refuse the airline's request to void its flight attendants contract. Comair's flight attendants have also vowed to strike if their contract is unilaterally scrapped.

Southwest and JetBlue Break New Low-Fare Ground
There seems to be no limit to where low-fare carriers will expand into territory once considered the sole property of legacy carriers. Southwest Airlines, for example, this week detailed its plans to invade United's Washington/Dulles hub in the fall. Service begins October 5 from two gates on Concourse B and Southwest will offer 12 daily nonstops: seven to Chicago/Midway, one to Las Vegas and two each to Orlando and Tampa. Tickets are priced between $79 and $99 one-way with a 14-day advance purchase. JetBlue Airways last month announced new service from New York/Kennedy to Houston/Hobby, Sarasota and Tucson and now it is adding still another business destination. Beginning October 3, it will launch flights to Columbus, Ohio. There will be four daily flights from JFK and a daily flight from Boston using 100-seat EMB-190s. JetBlue's introductory prices start at $69 one-way; regular fares range from $89 to $199. Southwest Airlines has increased its medium-range (750-1,000 miles) prices by $3 each way and its long-haul fares by $10 each way.

LAX Travelers Beware: A Runway Closure Is Imminent
Deliveries of the mammoth Airbus A380, which can accommodate up to 800 passengers, have been delayed again due to technical glitches, but that's no solace for travelers using Los Angeles Airport. To accommodate the eventual arrival of the gigantic plane, LAX is closing one of its runways on Saturday, July 29. The project is expected to take two years and cost $333 million. Needless to say, you should expect delays on arrivals and departures, especially during the late-night hours when actual construction will take place. United Airlines has closed its Red Carpet club at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Toronto travelers take note: Air Canada's Jazz commuter carrier says it plans to resume flights at Toronto/City Centre airport on August 28. There will be flights to both Montreal and Ottawa. Jazz was forced to end its service at City Centre in February when it lost its terminal lease. That facility was owned by the man who has founded Porter Airlines, which expects to launch City Centre flights in the fall. The added fillip: City Centre Airport officials say Jazz doesn't have the right to fly from the new terminal space it wants to use.

There'll Always Be Airline News About England
Eos Airlines, which offers first-class-style service at business-class prices between New York/Kennedy and London/Stansted, is expanding. It will launch a second weekday flight on the route beginning September 8. The carrier, which flies Boeing 757s configured with just 48 "suites," launched service last October and has been very circumspect about discounting its $6,600 roundtrip fare. The walk-up market at that price point "is bigger than you think," Eos founder and chief strategic officer David Spurlock told me last week. "We didn't start Eos because we thought we could discount and convert people into premium-class customers. We've always been focused on serving the existing premium-class market better." Virgin Atlantic on July 1 moved its late-night (11 p.m.) flight from Kennedy to London/Heathrow to an early-morning (7:30 a.m.) time slot. British Airways has responded by adding an early-morning (7:45 a.m.) Kennedy-Heathrow flight beginning December 1. That will give BA eight daily JFK-Heathrow flights; Virgin has four. December 1 also marks the launch of a new Canadian route to London: BA will fly five weekly Boeing 777s between Calgary and Heathrow.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Northwest Airlines, which has what most travelers consider the least-comfortable and least-gracious domestic first-class service, is making some minor improvements. Most notable: After more than a year of offering only one meal choice per flight, the carrier is returning to multiple menu items. US Airways is apparently planning to reduce the number of first-class seats on many of the routes that were formerly operated by the independent US Airways. The number of first-class seats on Airbus A321s, used on transcontinental routes from Philadelphia and along the East Coast, will be reduced to 16 from its current 26. Airbus A320s in the US Airways fleet before the merger with America West will lose four seats up front, reducing the count to 12 from the current 16. Airbus A319s won't lose any first-class seats, but coach passengers will feel a crunch. A row of coach seats is being added, reducing the legroom in coach from 32 or 33 inches to just 31 inches. Iberia and its pilots have settled a three-day strike that cancelled several flights from the United States and scrambled service throughout Spain. You might want to avoid Brussels Airport for a while. A strike by ground workers is scheduled to start on July 14.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.