Best Domestic Low-Fare/Upstart Airline: Western Pacific Airlines
Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Western Pacific earns our praise this year for offering business travelers an inexpensive transcontinental travel option. Major carriers may offer more trips between major East and West Coast cities, but they're often unaffordable. Western Pacific, however, offers one-stop service at prices that make a cross-country trip a possibility, not a nightmare.
Major airlines' fares for midweek travel typically run in the $1,000-plus range. However, WestPac (as it is known to loyalists) offers fares in the more manageable under-$400 range. Best of all, it allows business travelers to have a life by not requiring that dreaded Saturday-night stayover to get a reasonable fare. The downside: All flights stop over in Colorado Springs, and there are no in-flight meals.
Major West Coast cities served are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, and Portland, Oregon; major East Coast cities are Newark, New Jersey; Washington, DC; Atlanta; and Miami and Orlando, Florida.
Visit Western Pacific's Web site at (http://www.westpac.com), or for reservations, call (800) 930-3030.
Best Trans-Atlantic Business Class: Continental BusinessFirst
Although many major airlines flying across the Atlantic claim to offer a hybrid product--meaning a combination of first- and business-class comforts and amenities--Continental's BusinessFirst product still stands alone. The difference is in the seat--a huge sleeper with a whopping 55 inches of legroom, far more than what other airlines offer. (The BusinessFirst cabin topped the charts in a Consumer Reports comfort ranking last summer.)
Continental's BusinessFirst still offers the same basics that have kept it our fave for the past four years--the giant seat with electronically controlled lumbar support and footrest, plus an extensive menu of options on the in-seat video system. As other airlines watch passengers defect to BusinessFirst cabins, they have made moves to upgrade their creature comforts. But Continental has continued to tweak its product to stay ahead of the competition: It now offers "cookie jar service," allowing BusinessFirst passengers access to a snack bar during flights. Arrival lounges in Frankfurt, Germany, and London and Manchester, England, offer hot showers.
Continental's proposed (as of press time) alliance with Virgin Atlantic Airways will increase the airline's international presence by making London's Heathrow Airport more accessible. In the meantime, BusinessFirst is available from Newark, New Jersey, and Houston to cities in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Visit Continental's Web site at (http://www.flycontinental.com), or for reservations, call (800) 525-0280.
Best Trans-Atlantic Coach Class: Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy
Virgin Atlantic earns our kudos for the second year in a row because other airlines' economy cabins are still, for the most part, unimaginative sardine cans. Most Europe-bound business travelers cannot take advantage of the deep discounts offered to vacationers. Virgin's Premium Economy section was developed with the idea that those paying full economy fares (which are usually at least twice as much as vacationers' excursion fares) should get full frills. Travelers in this section will find a separate cabin with fewer seats per row, more legroom and wider seats.
But even if you are at the back of the plane (regular economy) with Virgin, you still get service you won't find on other airlines. Each economy seat has a personal video screen offering a wide array of movies, news, documentaries and games--plus free drinks, ice cream and an amenity kit with more goodies than you'll get in other airlines' business classes.
Call (800) 862-8621 or visit Virgin's Web site at (http://www.fly.virgin.comatlantic/).
Best Trans-Pacific Business Class: Cathay Pacific Airways
Facing stiff competition from other Asian airlines, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific regularly takes honors for best business-class service on those interminable trans-Pacific flights. Its amenities include new, larger seats with personal entertainment systems that offer eight channels of bilingual entertainment. In-flight phones are located away from seats for privacy, and flight attendants can send and receive faxes for passengers.
The most striking feature of Cathay's business class is the service--a virtual army of flight attendants offers personal touches that are difficult to duplicate. And U.S.-based travelers earn points with American Airlines' AAdvantage program.
If Hong Kong is only a stopover for you, you'll find connections at Cathay's Hong Kong hub punctual and plentiful. One unique feature of Cathay is its highly touted Web site, Cyber Traveler, which occasionally auctions seats for cash or to those with big banks of frequent flier miles. And in a move especially pleasing to East Coast travelers, Cathay recently launched direct service from New York City's JFK to Hong Kong, with only a quick stop in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Visit Cathay's Web site at (http://www.cathay-usa.com), or for reservations, call (800) 233-ASIA.
Best Airport: Chicago Midway
Were it not for Midway Airport, air fares in and out of the Windy City would be out of reach for many entrepreneurs in Chicagoland. Low-fare carriers such as Southwest, Kiwi, ValuJet and Vanguard make their Chicago stops here.
Business travelers find Midway appealing not only because of its lower fares but also because of its central location and accessibility. Now that the airport has its own CTA or "L" transit stop, with Orange Line trains running to the downtown area 10 miles away, it's surprising more business travelers don't opt for this smaller, friendlier and less hectic cousin of giant O'Hare International Airport 15 miles to the north.
In its 50-year history, Midway has gone from being the world's busiest airport to a near-shuttered facility in the 1970s. Now it's a thriving airport that serves 9 million passengers a year. Fourteen airlines serve almost 60 cities with direct or nonstop flights from Midway--most of them on low-fare carriers. And last year, the city of Chicago and Southwest Airlines teamed up on a six-year redevelopment plan that will replace the aging terminal and roadways.