The Tactical Traveler



This week: The deals Down Under; how to pack like a pro; airline alliances sound like World War I alliances; flying with the cattle at EasyJet; cooking in Tuscany; and more.

The start of the fall travel season in North America is the beginning of the spring season Down Under. It's also deal time for travel to Australia and New Zealand. And, like clockwork, Qantas and Air New Zealand have announced their specials. Air New Zealand's "Welcome Aboard" fares start at $898 midweek between Los Angeles and Auckland. The Qantas fare to Sydney is $998 midweek from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Can you do better? Sure, especially from tour packagers and wholesalers; they'll give you five days in a hotel and the flight for about the same price. And don't forget the amazing run-up in the value of the U.S. dollar Down Under. The greenback now buys about 1.70 Australian dollars, up from 1.35 a year ago. The U.S. dollar is buying about two New Zealand dollars compared to 1.45 last year.

There's more than you'll ever need to know about wool at the Woolmark website (, the home of a wool-marketing trade group. But the site does have a whiz-bang, on-line packing guide that offers great tips on planning for a weekend or a 5-day trip. There's also smart suggestions for packing duffels and garment bags. And, best of all, the site provides usable information on how to fold and pack a suit jacket or blazer without wrinkling it beyond redemption.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Everyone Into the Trenches
Last week's announcement that the proposed British Airways/American Airlines deal had morphed into "oneworld" alliance is the final confirmation that the worldwide airline competition looks like nothing so much as the map of Europe just before World War I. For those who trying to figure out who is in the trenches with whom, here's how the Grand Alliances now line up. The original entente, KLM-Northwest, is abetted by Continental and Alitalia and, by osmosis, America West, Alaska and Mayalsia Air System. They must bring in some more players, however, because the Star Alliance already has more and bigger guns: United, Air Canada, SAS, Lufthansa, Thai and Varig, with Air New Zealand, All Nippon (ANA), and Singapore Airlines in reserve. The oneworld group initially includes American, BA, Canadian, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, and they are likely to be joined by Iberia and Japan Airlines. At risk: Delta, TWA and Air France. Air France will be a world player simply by dint of geography; airlines lust after Paris and say Charles DeGaulle, Paris' primary airport, is a great hub with lots of expansion room. But Delta has to be alarmed: it has already lost its Singapore and ANA allies, and it looks as if Finnair, Swissair and Sabena may soon defect to oneworld. TWA has adopted an isolationist policy--the airline's chairman attacked the concept of alliances in a speech in a speech last week--but the issue is moot since the carrier hasn't been able to find an ally anyway. My best suggestion: keep your frequent-flying head down, keep your gas mask by your side, and hope you don't get the order to go over the top any time soon.

EasyJet, the fast-growing discount airline based at London's Luton Airport, is the brainchild of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the British schooled son of a Greek tycoon. He recently spoke to Alison Maitland of the Financial Times about keeping in touch with passengers. "Three of four times a week I fly EasyJet just to talk to people," Haji-Ioannou said. "I always introduce myself and I never sit in the cockpit or the front row. It's the ultimate consumer research. If I am on a delayed flight, I'm there taking all the flak. I'm there for the good times as well as the bad times. The important thing is you get feedback."

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Cooking in Tuscany
Need something to do with those extra frequent-flyer miles? Cash 'em in for a flight to Rome or Florence, then catch up with the Culinary Conquest of Tucson History program operated by Select Italy (800-245-9335). The six-night package includes accommodations in the hamlet of Castello di Tocchi, near Siena; guided cultural touring conducted by anthropologist Vittorio Cambria; gourmet dining; and demonstration-style cooking classes taught by Giancarlo Giannelli, chef/proprietor of L'Oste Poeta. The package price is $4,400 a couple through December.

This column originally appeared at

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