The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 10, 1999


This week: The upgrade shell game; a door-to-door luggage scheme; shift the blame for late flights; more crime at Mexico City's airport; all-star promotions for the All-Star Game in Boston; and more.

Premier and super-elite flyers accustomed to upgrades to first class based on their status are having a harder time getting bumped up to first. That's because several airlines, including Continental and Delta, are now walling off first-class inventory and holding back seats from their most frequent travelers. In Continental's case, travelers are permitted to upgrade discounted coach seats up to three days before flight time based on their OnePass Elite level. Continental flyers traditionally have been allowed to upgrade to virtually any available first-class seat. Now, however, an increasing number of Continental flights have two "buckets" of first class seats, some coded "F," others coded "A." First-class seats in the "A" bucket are held back until the morning of departure. Delta runs a similar inventory game, coding their first-class seats both "F" and "R." So how do you beat the upgrade shell game? You can't but you can be doggedly determined in pursuit of your upgrade. If you are told there are no upgrades available, make sure you ask if the first-class cabin is physically sold out or if the seats are unavailable for upgrades. If you're told seats are being held back, ask when they will be released to the upgrade pool. Then, pounce on the upgrade as soon as the seats are available.

CYBERTRAVELER: Virtual Bellhop
A company called TraveLite Enterprises now offers door-to-door luggage service. A company employee comes to your home or office, collects your bags, then arranges to ship them to your final destination. The company sells the service in 150 cities and arranges overnight delivery, two-day service, or delivery in 3-to-5 days. Prices start at $65 each way. This "virtual bellhop" scheme is detailed at the Virtual Bellhop website located at

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Shifting the On-Time Blame
The airline industry's on-time ratings continue to sink, so the carriers have resorted to their favorite dodge: shifting blame to travelers. According to Transportation Department figures released last week, the nation's ten major carriers recorded an on-time arrival rating of just 75.7 percent in April. Besides meaning that one in every four flights ran late, April's performance was nearly three points below March's 78.1 percent rating and almost four percentage points below the airlines' April, 1998, on-time ranking of 79.1 percent. Now keep in mind that this on-time erosion comes after several carriers cracked down on carry-on bags, claiming travelers were toting aboard too much luggage. Since it is clear the carry-on habits of passengers is not to blame for the airlines' inability to keep to their schedules, the carriers have cooked up another excuse. Travelers, they claim, are not settled in their seats early enough and that is what creates the delays. United Airlines and US Airways, to name two, are now pushing new programs that essentially try to hector traveling into being in their seats 10 minutes before departure. United calls its new plan Time to Go. US Airways' program goes by the moniker of 10-5-Takeoff. Needless to say, these programs won't improve on-time performance, either. Why? Passengers are already required to be prepared to board domestic flights up to 20 minutes before departures. If the airlines were truly interested in improving their on-time performance, they'd have their planes ready for boarding at least 20 minutes before departure. But, as any frequent traveler knows, planes are rarely, if ever, ready for boarding at that time. Often, the equipment isn't even at the gate 20 minutes in advance.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The troublesome crime situation in Mexico City took another turn for the worse last week. Local newspapers reported that kidnappers abducted a Mexican businessman from a lounge at Benito Juarez International Airport. The businessman was released unharmed and the newspaper accounts said the kidnappers evaded airport security checks to pull off the abduction. Check the price you pay for calling-card calls. If it's more than 10 cents a minute, you're probably paying too much. A lovely little rate war is raging in the phone business and calling cards are one of the major battlegrounds. Flight attendants at Northwest Airlines voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The flight attendants have been working without a contract since 1996. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific has been canceling as many as half its flights every day this month due to a pilots sickout. Cathay, which has continued to expand despite Asia's weak economy, lost money in 1998 for the first time since 1963. The Hong Kong-based carriers wants its pilots to take a pay cut in exchange for stock options.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: All-Star Baseball in Beantown
Baseball's All Star Game is scheduled for Fenway Park in Boston on July 13. If you want to see the sport's best hitters pepper the Green Monster, but can't score tickets, check in with Spectacular Sport Specials (800-451-5772). Three-day packages start at $1,380 a person and include game tickets, airport and game transfers, and accommodations at the Fairmont Hotel. Four-day packages, which include tickets to the Home Run Derby and lodging at the Boston Harbor Hotel, start at $1,725 a person.

This column originally appeared at

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