The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 15, 1999


This week: Strike warnings in the unfriendly skies; an online guide to fitness options on the road; another toothless passenger's rights pronouncement; more restricted 'unrestricted' fares; and more.

The federally mandated 30-day "cooling off" period at America West ends at 12:01 a.n Eastern Time on Saturday and disgruntled flight attendants will be free to strike. The flight attendants, who have been negotiating for years in search of their first union contract, vow to disrupt America West with strikes, targeted work actions and other tactics if no deal is reached by the deadline. It goes without saying that booking around America West this week and next makes sense. But finding an airline without flight-attendant contract problems is virtually impossible. Carriers have been playing hardball with their cabin crews in recent years and few airlines are on good terms with their flight attendants. Contracts have expired at American, Northwest, TWA, and US Airways, and the flight-attendant unions at all four airlines are unhappy with the pace of negotiations. Four smaller carriers--Aloha, American Trans Air, Mesa and Tower--are also wrangling with flight attendants whose union contracts have expired. Midway's cabin crew voted for union representation last December and the AFA, the largest union of flight attendants, is attempting to organize at Delta and Midwest Express..

If you book hotel stays based on proximity to fitness facilities, let your fingers do the surfing to find the best health and workout places on the road. At Fit for Business (, you'll find online listings for hotels and details on their workout equipment, health-club facilities and guest privileges. Over at the Forbes Digital Tool, entering the word "fitness" at the search engine on the home page will bring up the link for Kyle Merker's Fitness Guide. Merker's work is exhaustive and incredibly comprehensive. It not only lists hotels, but stand-alone private clubs and YMCAs that allow travelers paid access on a daily basis. There are also extremely specific details on each club's machines, weight rooms, pools, tracks, racquet and basketball courts, dining options, and shower and locker facilities.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Which Passengers? Whose Rights?
You probably know everything you need to know about the value of the Clinton Administration's "passenger rights" action last week when you consider who fronted the initiative: Vice President Al Gore, who is searching for issues to propel his presidential bid. But even considering that the proposals were aimed at generating publicity rather than solving problems, the package offer absolutely nothing for frequent flyers, who have borne the brunt of the airlines' fare increases and declining service. Consider, for example, the two key financial proposals: doubling denied-boarding compensation and a carrier's maximum liability if it loses your luggage. Both situations are among the rarest problems faced by business travelers. Fewer than one passenger in 10,000 is ever denied boarding, according the latest Department of Transportation statistics. As for lost luggage, DOT said only about five passengers in a thousand reported "mishandled baggage" in 1998; experts estimate 98 percent of those complaints were resolved within 24 hours. The other Clinton Administration suggestions are equally useless. New rules for reporting code-shared flights imposed last Wednesday were trapped in the DOT's rule-making process for four years before Gore discovered them in time for his press event. Moreover, DOT has had some form of code-share disclosure rules on the books for a dozen years and almost never enforces them. The DOT's decision earlier this month to fine Northwest and Delta for code-share disclosure violations was its first enforcement action in five years. On the other hand, the "rights" issues that really affect business travelers--their right to uniform, comprehensible carry-on baggage rules; their right to fair fares; their right to disclosuree of frequent-flyer award availability; and their right to compensation or redress when airlines inexplicably cancel flights or create long delays--were never mentioned.

DOLLAR WATCH: More Restricted 'Unrestricted' Fares
The last edition of Tactical Traveler covered the airlines' outrageous policy of slapping restrictions on their supposedly "unrestricted" high-priced and full-fare walk-up tickets whenever it suits their purposes. As if to prove the point, several carriers last week imposed severe restrictions on walk-up fares in about 50 markets that may be affected by the aforementioned strike at America West. In most cases, even full-fare coach and first-class tickets on routes into and out of America West's hubs at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio are now nonrefundable through mid-April. If America West is struck, don't be surprised if airlines extend the nonrefundability period and add additional restrictions to all tickets.

Mid-March is when business travelers start thinking about where to escape on their all-too-short summer holidays. This year's best bet--especially if you're looking to cash frequent-flyer miles--is Asia, especially Pacific Rim destinations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong and Japan. The continuing economic crunch in Asia means airlines have plenty of empty seats. Local hotels and resorts have slashed prices to attract customers. Another good choice this summer: Hawaii. Although premium-class space might be in short supply, airlines report there are plenty of coach seats available for award travel. Hawaiian resorts, hotels, and condominiums, suffering a shortfall of Asian visitors, are offering special packages and amenities to entice mainland visitors to go west.

This column originally appeared at

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