The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 29, 1999


This week: The travel fallout from the Yugoslav troubles; Chris Barnett comes to the Net; the FAA skimps on safety; a suite hotel bargain in New York; and more.

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is mangling commercial aviation in and around the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Several airports in southern Italy are closed, as is the airport in the Albanian capital of Tirana. Airports in Croatia have closed sporadically. NATO has warned commercial airlines not to fly over Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, creating delays up to two hours on flights as far away as India. Airlines are abruptly canceling flights to some Balkan countries. If anything, the situation may get worse before it gets better. Some experts fear extended bombing could lead to terrorist actions aimed at airlines carrying the flag of NATO countries. Most at risk, according to the experts, are French, German and U.S. carriers operating into regional hub airports in Rome, Athens, Vienna and Istanbul. Take all necessary short-term precautions. For starters, route your beyond-Europe travel over northerly hubs such Amsterdam, Zurich, Frankfurt, Copenhagen or even Helsinki or Warsaw. Travelers headed to Italy, Austria, Greece and Turkey should be especially careful: double-check itineraries, call your airline to check the status of departing flights, and consider switching some short-haul travel to rails or road.

CYBERTRAVELER: More Insight on the Web
If you're lucky enough to get a newspaper that carries the syndicated business-travel column written by Chris Barnett, you already know the insight and humor he brings to life on the road. For the rest of us, there's TotalTravel ( The Web site now posts Barnett's current column and offers an archive of some of his recent commentary. Barnett, a California journalist who recently relocated in Washington, always has something interesting to say about the life and times of frequent flyers.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Skimping on Safety
Don't believe the airlines when they claim they spare no expense to guarantee your safety. Just the opposite is often true. The most recent example: the carriers' unwillingness to put state-of-the-art "black boxes" on their planes. The National Transportation Safety Board "urgently recommended" in 1995 that the Federal Aviation Administration require airlines to retrofit their fleets with upgraded equipment. The NTSB also told the FAA it should require commercial jets to install a separate power supply for the black boxes, which are actually orange and officially called flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. The separate power would ensure the boxes would continue to operate if a plane's electrical system ceased. Ever sensitive to the whims of airline bean counters, the FAA dragged its bureaucratic feet. No regulation on black-box upgrades was ever issued. Privately, FAA officials say airlines balked at the upgrade cost: $700,000 per plane. The result: NTSB says only 226 of the 1,300 Boeing 737s in the fleets of the U.S. carriers have been retrofitted. Other aircraft types are similarly poorly equipped. The battle over the black boxes is not academic. Since 1983, there have been more than four dozen cases where the data flow from the black boxes has ceased due to lost power. During four recent fatal accidents--the 1996 ValuJet DC-9 crash, TWA 800's 747 crash in 1996, the SilkAir 737 crash in 1997, add the Swissair MD-11 crash last year--black boxes stopped because power ceased before the planes hit the ground or the water. An outdated flight-data recorder on USAir Flight 427 has stymied experts in their attempts to explain why 132 people died in the 1994 crash outside Pittsburgh. During hearings on the issue earlier this month, House Appropriations subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf blasted the FAA's unwillingness to force the airlines to retrofit their fleet. "How can you not do what [the NTSB asked] you to do?" he asked FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. "If you cannot do it now, in unprecedented good times, it will never be done."

WEEKLY WONDER: New York, Fast and Cheap
The Avalon, New York's new and mostly all-suite little boutique hotel, has knocked rates down until April 7. Room rates start at $169 a night including continental breakfast. Guests booking at this "Spring Savings" rate also receive a space-available suite upgrade. Located off Madison Avenue, the Avalon now houses Larry Forgione's newest culinary venture, the "16-32 Coach House" For more information, call 888-HI-AVALON.

This column originally appeared at

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