The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 24, 1999


This week: Europe has tardy flights, too; Iridium is tanking; airline alliances in motion; playing financial games with airline valuations; Northwest says your flight is good if the toilet worked; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Chaos in Europe--and More
The lack of co-ordination and co-operation between national air traffic control systems will mean long delays on the continent this summer, says Karl-Heinz Neumeister of the Association of European Airlines. European on-time performance was already appalling--one in three European flights were delayed in the spring--but Neumeister believes "the summer is going to be chaos. It will be very, very dramatic." ... Remember Iridium, the much-touted global satellite-telephone consortium launched late last year? Spotty service, slow sales, high prices and miserable marketing has led the company to slash fees and reduce its staff by 15 percent. Only about 15,000 people worldwide have signed up for Iridium to date. The company once expected 500,000 users by the end of the year. ... You may want to avoid British Airways 777 flights to the Caribbean. The airline usually seats 197 people in its Boeing 777 coach cabins, but has squeezed 362 coach seats into the 777s serving many Caribbean routes.

MILES & POINTS: Alliances in Motion Means Miles at Risk
Delta Air Lines and Air France announced a global alliance earlier this week. Besides the obvious aside--Delta and Air France, two carriers who are legends in their own corporate minds, deserve each other--the alliance will lead to a major upheaval in benefits for frequent travelers. Only hours after the Air France announcement, Delta's existing European partners, Swissair and Sabena, promptly announced an alliance with American Airlines. Continental, a spurned Air France suitor, will surely sever its code-share links to the French carrier. And it is also likely that Swissair and Sabena will eventually ditch Delta altogether and join Oneworld, the global alliance that includes American Airlines and British Airways. Watch your frequent-flyer programs for fallout: Air France will drop out of Continental OnePass. Swissair and Sabena will leave Delta SkyPass and enter American AAdvantage. Code-share deals and club-lounge reciprocity will also be affected along the same lines.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Travel's Brave New World
Two separate events explains exactly how much travel has changed in the last few years. In this brave new world, it is clear that electronic commerce is the wave of the business-travel future. Event One: United Airlines announced Monday that electronic tickets now accounted for a majority of its business. During the month of May, United said, 51 percent of the 7,000,000 tickets used on the airline were of the electronic variety. Event Two: Airline analyst Brian Harris of Salomon Smith Barney revealed a remarkable conclusion in a recent interview with The Wall Street Transcript. AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, American Eagle, Sabre and, is valued at about $8 billion. But Harris explained that he did "a side valuation on Travelocity just for fun. As of today, Travelocity is worth $8 billion [so] you get the airline part of AMR for free."

FOLLOW UP: In--and Over--the Toilet
The incident that started the legislative stampede to "passenger rights" legislation is back in the news. A Michigan state judge ruled last week that Northwest passengers stranded on Detroit runways during a January blizzard did constitute a "class." That allows several travelers suing Northwest to consolidate their complaints into a single class-action lawsuit. As you undoubtedly recall, Northwest stranded thousands of travelers on snowboard aircraft for upwards of 13 hours without food and beverages. Passengers on some aircraft were threatened with arrest if they moved around the cabin and the lavatories overflowed on many planes. Rather than settle the lawsuits privately to avoid further damage to its already frayed reputation, Northwest has contested the suits and opposed their consolidation into a class action. In fighting the class action, a Northwest attorney, Leonard Nagl, unwittingly gave us more insight into what airlines think passengers should have to endure. "How can any one plaintiff's experience or response to his flight be used as a guideline," Nagl wondered. "Certainly all of the airplanes didn't have the toilets overflow." Keep that nugget in mind next time you fly. At least one airline thinks you had a good flight as long as your lavatory didn't overflow.

AIRPORT REPORT: Priority Pass Gets Delta and Gets Bigger
I've mentioned the Priority Pass before and I recommend it because of the plan's excellent access hundreds of airline airport clubs around the world. Now the program has added 38 Delta Crown Room Clubs in the United States and Canada, meaning a Priority Pass gives you entry into about 250 clubs worldwide. Besides the Crown Room Clubs, the Priority Pass roster includes TWA Ambassadors Clubs, Northwest Worldclubs, and most of the best private airport lounges in Europe and Asia. The program's all-inclusive fee, $295 a year, is about what you expect to pay for membership in one airline's lounge network. For more information, call 800-352-2834 and tell them "Joe Sent Me."

This column originally appeared at

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