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The Savvy Traveler

Flights That Are No Secret

September 25, 1988|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

What airlines fly between Los Angeles and Tokyo? If among them you guessed Japan Air Lines, All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airlines and Northwest, you're right.

However, there's another airline that makes the run, offers the same fares and great service. Yet no one seems to know about it.

It's Varig, the Brazilian airline. Three times a week, the airline leaves LAX at 9:50 a.m. and arrives in Tokyo at 1:30 p.m. the next day. The plane usually has lots of empty seats. Flying between Detroit and New York City? Pan Am flies two daily flights in each direction. A real surprise happens on the short Dallas-to-Austin, Tex., hop. Pan Am flies the route for only $25 one way.

If you're jumping between Seattle and Portland, Ore., a 30-minute flight, I bet you didn't know that both Eastern Airlines and TWA have late-night flights. And, if you're traveling from New York City to Vienna, check out Royal Jordanian Airlines. It offers cheap fares and nonstop flights. Royal Jordanian also has nonstop Chicago-Vienna service.

Change of Pace

Most frequent fliers know that both Eastern Airlines and Air Canada fly between Montreal and New York City. A few travelers opt for a serious change of pace. They fly Royal Air Maroc between the two cities.

Going from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tokyo? Consider the British Airways flight.

There's nothing secret about these flights. All are listed in official airline schedules. No one seems to know about them, however.

A strange logic applies to these unknown flights. If Varig flies between Los Angeles and Tokyo, try calling Japan Air Lines next time you're headed for Brazil.

JAL Flight 64 from Los Angeles to Rio leaves at 4:15 p.m. and arrives at 8:20 a.m. the next day.

Seats are almost always available. Japan Air Lines also has routes from Delhi, India, to Bahrain, and Karachi, Pakistan, to Athens.

Positioning Flights

Actually, on all of these flights, sooner or later the plane lands at the airline's headquarters city. In many cases these flights do not exist as a passenger convenience. Instead they are continuing flights from other destinations. In some cases, the planes are sent on to a more important destination.

These are called positioning flights, not necessarily to get the plane from point A to point B, but actually to get it to point C. Sometimes a positioning flight may be simply to get the plane to a place for an overnight maintenance check.

Delta, for example, makes no money by flying a 767 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It simply needs to get the aircraft north so it can fly the airline to Atlanta.

The Los Angeles-to-San Diego market used to be dominated by PSA (now USAir). But positioning flights have changed the market. How about an 18-minute 767 flight? American Airlines flies one between the two cities twice each day. Northwest, USAir, TWA, Alaska Airlines, United, Northwest, Pan Am and Delta also fly the route.

'Aluminum Cloud'

San Francisco-to-Los Angeles is often dubbed the "aluminum cloud in the sky" because it is the most heavily traveled air corridor in the United States. In addition to USAir, American and United and virtually every major U.S. airline has flown the route at one time or another.

But there are still some surprises . . . and cheap fares. For example, if you want to fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco with no advance reservations, the fare is $129 each way on USAir. Same fare on United and American. And if you fly on Saturdays, the fare on United drops to $86 each way.

But three times every day, Pan Am sends an airbus between the two cities. And the unrestricted fare for each flight is just $69 one way.

Some once-secret flights are sometimes overbooked. When the triple mileage wars were being fought earlier this year, a secret--perhaps the shortest--flight between two U.S. cities suddenly became the most popular.

Full of Mileage Junkies

Twice each day, United flew between the San Francisco and Oakland airports. The flights lasted eight minutes. But the planes were full of mileage junkies anxious to qualify for triple-mileage awards.

Between London and Los Angeles, it's generally assumed that British Airways, TWA and Pan Am are the only ones that fly the nonstop polar route. Wrong. One of the best-kept secrets is Air New Zealand. The airline's twice-weekly flights between Gatwick Airport and LAX are a dream. And the airline flies once each week from Dallas.

On transcontinental flights, frequent travelers are aware of the notorious "red-eye" flights offered by United, American and TWA. The flights leave LAX at 10 p.m. and arrive shortly before 6 a.m. the next day at JFK. If you're like me, you hate these flights for two reasons.

First, you arrive in New York City in a state of near coma. Second, by the time you retrieve your luggage, your cab ride into Manhattan is a long, painful one as you almost surely get stuck in early morning rush-hour traffic.

Favorite Flight

If you must travel at night, I've got my own secret flight. It's Northwest Flight 330. The flight leaves Los Angeles for Detroit at 12:20 a.m. It connects with three Northwest flights, each leaving Detroit at 8:20 the same morning, bound for LaGuardia, Newark and Westchester airports.

But how does a traveler find out about these flights?

That's easier said than done. Recently I asked a sampling of 15 travel agents to name the airlines that fly between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

None named Varig. Only one suggested Air New Zealand on the Los Angeles-London route. And only two volunteered that Royal Jordanian flies between New York City and Vienna.

Short of getting your own reservations computer, the next time you're trying to decide which airline to fly between point A and point B, think of some absurd airline possibilities.

Then call. You could be in for a surprise.

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