The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 29, 1998


This week: Changing airports in London; finding CVBs on the Web; Iridium's irritating ads; high style and personal service in Washington; passing it around Europe; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Changing Airports in London
Frequent travelers to London have traditionally used Gatwick Airport instead of Heathrow. The reason? The Gatwick Express, a cheap, 30-minute direct-rail service that connects Gatwick to London's Victoria Station. By comparison, getting to or from Heathrow required an uncomfortable, 50-minute ride on the London Underground, a one-hour-plus bus ride or an agonizingly slow and costly taxi ride. All that changed June 23 when the Heathrow Express open. The 17-mile, direct-rail link connects London's Paddington Station to Heathrow's passenger terminals in about 15 minutes. The one-way cost: 10 in coach, 20 in first class. Heathrow has always offered better onward flight connections and more frequent service to and from major American cities. Now that a speedy ground link is in place, it's also a better choice for travel to London.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Official Line on Travel
Every place on the planet now seems to have its own quasi-official Convention and Visitors Bureau. The stated purpose of the CVBs: promote and encourage travel and tourism, which is universally considered a low-risk, low-impact, high-profit industry. Most CVBs offer an array of useful information on dining, accommodations, relocation, and tourist activities. But as the officially sanctioned representative of their destination, a CVB always puts on its happiest face, so not all the information is complete or balanced. That said, however, CVBs remain a vital resource link. How do you find them? Try the web site of the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus ( or the site maintained by the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory ( They have extensive and easy-to-use links to more than 1,500 CVBs around the world.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Shut Up and Sell the Phone
You'll soon be bombarded by TV spots, print ads, and direct-mail solicitations for Iridium (, a satellite phone system. Scheduled to launch September 23, Iridium is promising one-world, one-phone, one-number telecommunications. Compared to earlier generations of satellite phones--which carried five-digit price tags and were the size of a briefcase--the Iridium phone is small (about the size of a brick) and cheap (about $3,000), with reasonable airtime charges. If the Iridium network performs as promised, the service will instantly become a must-own item for significant portions of the worldwide business travel community. Will Iridium be selling and promoting the phone for what it is: a long-overdue, much-desired, no-brainer for global travelers. Of course not. That would be too simple. Instead, Iridium will assault us with tens of millions of dollars of hype: exaggerated aspirational tripe, goofy lifestyle pablum, status blather, egregious guilt trips, and super-heated emotional claptrap. As one breathless Iridium spokesman recently gushed: "The global business traveler is really an explorer, a visionary, a risk taker." Memo to Iridium: Don't tell business travelers about their lives. You don't seem have a clue. Just shut up and sell us the damned phones.

IN THE LOBBY: High Style and Personal Service in Washington
When Steve Wolf hired on as chief executive of US Airways a couple of years ago, he promptly checked himself into the Four Seasons Hotel (202-342-0444) in Washington. He's still living there, a testament to the hotel's high style, personal service, peerless address, and powerful cachet. The 200-room property is frequently booked solid, but a new wing with 60 additional rooms and suites is scheduled to open next month. I toured the new additions and they are superb: spacious (600-square-foot rooms, suites as large as 3,200 square feet), elegantly furnished, and fitted with an eclectic range of modern art. There are also smart touches such as desk-level power outlets and phone jacks in the work areas, headsets for the televisions, and ingenious fog-free mirrors in the bathrooms. Also new: a lavish, 12,500-square-foot fitness center with a vaulted lap pool and a "private spa room," which features a whirlpool, steam shower, and spa treatments.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Passing it Around Europe
The new EurAir pass allows U.S. business travelers to fly between more than 50 cities within Europe for a flat rate of $90 plus airport taxes per segment. Nine airlines participate in the program, and, unlike single-airline passes, the EurAir pass does not require you to fly a specified carrier across the Atlantic. Although the pass must be purchased in the United States, flight reservations can be made along the way with as little as 24 hours advance notice. For rules and restrictions (including some large gaps in EurAir's coverage), contact EurAir at 888-387-2479 or

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.