The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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New Flights and Old Names
February 1, 1996 -- Hey, hey, here is some good news about airlines. Honest.

Want to fly to Florida for pennies? You're in luck. It'll also be easier and cheaper to travel to Las Vegas. This may even be the year two fabled aviation names--Pan Am and Laker--get their wings back. Best of all, 1996 will be the year travelers finally get a northwest passage to China.

Years of corporate cutbacks and fiscal reorganization have left the nation's airlines relatively healthy and they are responding with a variety of new routes and services in 1996. This is very good news for travelers, who will benefit from many new flights, lower fares, and even a renewed sense of the romance and adventure of flying. Here's what you should look for this year.

FAIRER FLORIDA FARES
Southwest Airlines, the nation's leading discount carrier, launched its first flights to Florida in January and fares in the Sunshine State immediately plummeted. To kick off its service between Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, for example, Southwest briefly cut one-way fares to $19. Southwest (800-435-9792) now flies nonstop to Tampa from six cities: St. Louis, Nashville, New Orleans, Baltimore, Ft. Lauderdale, and Birmingham, Alabama. Beginning April 7, the airline will also launch service to Orlando. For fares as low as $59 one-way, Southwest will soon fly nonstop from Orlando to nine cities: Fort Lauderdale; Baltimore; New Orleans; Nashville; Indianapolis; St. Louis; and Columbus, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; and Louisville, Kentucky.

VIVA LAS VEGAS
Despite its popularity, Las Vegas has always been difficult to reach because the airlines frequently required travelers to change planes en route. This year, however, at least three carriers are adding nonstop flights to Las Vegas. Delta Air Lines (800-221-1212) will add nonstops from six cities (Kansas City, New York, Orlando, Boston, New Orleans and Calgary). America West (800-247-5692) is adding nonstop service from four cities (Detroit, Vancouver, Mexico City, and Newark, New Jersey). And low-fare Kiwi International (800-538-5494) recently added nonstops to Las Vegas from Atlanta and Chicago's Midway Airport.

THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE
Columbus never found it, nor did any of the thousands of explorers who traveled west in a vain attempt to discover a direct route to China. Hundreds of years later, however, the dream of a quick and convenient Northwest Passage will finally become a reality. On May 1, Northwest Airlines (800-225-2525) will launch nonstop flights between its Detroit hub and China's capital of Beijing. It will be the first-ever nonstop service to the Chinese mainland by a U.S. airline.

NOSTALGIC NAMES
The man who all but created discount airfares, Freddie Laker, saya he'll start a new airline this year. Laker's Skytrain revolutionized transatlantic service in the late 1970s. Laker promises his new venture, Laker Airways, will be equally cost-conscious. The new airline will offer discounted, one-class service on routes to England and even between some U.S. cities. Another storied name, Pam Am, is also planning to return to the skies this summer. Once the world's leading airline, Pan Am collapsed in 1991, but a former Pan Am executive is promising the carrier will return with low-fare, two-class service linking New York with San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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