The Tactical Traveler



This week: Terminals and luggage templates; distant travel voices; Delta gives up its $2 fee; a magical mystery tour; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Terminals and Templates
Never underestimate the determination of business travelers to carry on what the feel they need to carry on. Some flyers in Chicago and Denver have found an ingenious--if circuitous--way to circumvent the carry-on templates that United has put on the X-ray machines in its O'Hare and Denver International terminals. In Denver, travelers with carry-on bags that violate United's new rules clear security at Concourse A, the terminal used primarily by Continental and Frontier. Then they hop the train to Concourse B, United's terminal, thus avoiding the templates on the X-ray machines there. At O'Hare, United passengers toting too-big bags clear security at T-2, a shared-airline terminal, then walk through to T-1, the main United gate complex.

One of the coolest thing about the web is that you can read useful travel information produced by good reporters and observers in cities around the nation. And the more you hear other voices, the better you understand your life on the road. Down in Atlanta, for example, CNN contributor Chris McGinnis writes a terrific weekly column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can find it on the web by surfing to Access Atlanta (, then entering "Chris McGinnis" in the "Search this site" function. And up in Boston, George Hobica pounds the Cyberpavement for stories at the TravelGuy site (

Delta's surprising and much-welcomed decision last week to rescind its surcharge for booking tickets anywhere but its website isn't quite what it seemed. Delta said it dropped the fee, essentially $2 on every roundtrip, because customers didn't like it, but the truth is slightly more complicated. Customers didn't only dislike the surcharge, they were offended and acted on their displeasure. "This one caught people's attention," explained a travel agent whose clients are deep in Delta's Southern base. "Everyone in my office was fielding calls from travelers demanding to be booked on anyone but Delta. People had seen print stories about and television coverage of the fee and were infuriated. They thought it was chintzy and demeaning. They felt they were being played for fools." Of course, travelers were able to book away from Delta because no other airline imposed a surcharge, leaving Delta naked and bearing the full brunt of travelers' anger. Why did other airlines pass up the opportunity to impose another fare increase by matching Delta's surcharge? "It was too soon for a fee like this," one airline marketing executive old me. "Next year, maybe. But not now. Besides, a $2 fee seems insulting. When we do it, it'll be $10 or $20. That will tell travelers we're serious about getting them to book at our website."

THE ANSWER: Randy Rates the Alliances
Just like everyone else, I'm confounded and confused by how the new airline alliances have altered and affected my frequent-flyer programs. And when I'm befuddled, I go to Randy Petersen, the editor and publisher of Inside Flyer magazine and the wizard of So I sat Randy down to breakfast last week and asked him to rate the alliances from the mileage point of view. The linkage of United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles "doesn't mean a thing," he said bluntly. The American AAdvantage deal with US Airways Dividend Miles at least offers "pooling of miles. That's a shortcut to getting American Express Membership Reward miles into American," which does not otherwise participate in the Amex plan. And the ties between Northwest WorldPerks and Continental OnePass? "It's a true alliance and offers full reciprocity," he said. "You can close your eyes and not tell the difference between the programs. That's what an alliance should be."

THE WEEKLY WONDER: A Magical Mystery Tour
Those of us of a certain age simply can't believe it was 35 years ago Sunday that The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. If you always think about diverting to Abbey Road whenever you visit London on business, consider taking the "16th Annual Magical Mystery Tour." The 11-day jaunt down memory lane (or, perhaps, Penny Lane) is scheduled to depart on August 22. The $1999 per person price includes tours of historic Beatles sites in London and their home town of Liverpool; a memorabilia auction; a fund-raising carnival at Strawberry Field; and a performance by Pete Best, the Beatles first drummer. The price also includes roundtrip transatlantic airfare, lodging and daily breakfast. For more details, contact Liverpool Productions (800-777-5295).

This column originally appeared at

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