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 The Brancatelli File

joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

July 6, 2000 -- Nobody asked me, but…

The United Shuttle may be running worse than any other major airline operation. Flight cancellations, lost baggage and on-time performance are all horrendous. But since almost all of its flights are out west, which the national media tends to ignore, United Shuttle gets a free pass.

New Yorkers are nuts to put up with an eight-month waiting list and a $500 dinner tab just to eat at Alain Ducasse's new restaurant on Central Park South. You want good eats without six-star silliness? Try Jewel of India on West 44th Street, the Turkish Kitchen on Third Avenue or Taliesin in the Millenium Hilton at the World Trade Center.

We should be paying more attention to the startling developments in Mexico, where the corrupt and corpulent PRI was voted out Sunday after 71 years of one-party rule. The destinies of the United States, Mexico and Canada are inextricably linked and the sooner we realize that, the better.

I'm off grande dame hotels for a while after a horrendous night at the Providence Biltmore last week. Eight decades of history hardly mitigates the peeling paint, cheap furniture with broken handles and moldy, decrepit bathroom. Next time in Rhode Island, I'm staying at the Westin or the Marriott and getting my frequent-stay points, too.

I'm tired of frequent flyers complaining about in-flight food. How many trips do you have to take before you realize your choice is between no meal or atrocious slop unfit for human consumption? What part of "pack a lunch" don't you understand?

Does anyone care about the Summer Olympics in Sydney? Have you ever seen an Olympics with this little buzz? And, come to think of it, will I be the only American going to the World's Fair in Hannover, Germany? You mean you didn't know there were World's Fairs anymore…

What sense does it make to build a double-decked, 555-seat plane like the Airbus 3xx when the airlines keep shifting to itsy-bitsy 737s on transcon and long-haul routes?

I'm really bored by the French whining about their national identity and claiming they are battling American cultural imperialism. Since when is trashing a McDonald's restaurant an honorable act? They serve French fries, don't they?

Isn't it about time some car-rental company introduces a premium-priced service that allows you to confirm a specific car model? I know I'd pay to lock in a car I've been hoping to road test.

It seems like everyone is going to Tuscany on vacation this year. I just wish more of them had looked at the great bargains and quality homes at Tuscanhouse.com before they booked their villas and farmhouses. I cringe when I hear what some people are paying.

The first thing I do when I get to my hotel room these days is see which local television channel airs reruns of The Simpsons. I can survive life on the road if I can get a daily dose of those wise and hilariously subversive yellow people.

Isn't it about time for the airlines to admit they made a mistake by eliminating advance boarding passes?

Am I the only one who thinks Starbucks coffee tastes overcooked, burned and bitter? I've drunk everything this side of sterno on deadline in newsrooms from Albany to Zurich, but when I see a Starbucks at the airport, I head to a different concourse.

Women business travelers still get terrible treatment on the road. And I may strangle the next insensitive front-desk clerk who calls out, "You'll be in Room 637, Miss Smith," to the woman two people ahead of me in the check-in line.

I can't help but laugh when supposedly knowledgeable people say they are distressed to learn that the airlines haven't exhibited good faith in implementing their Customer First initiatives. Some of them seem honestly shocked that last week's Transportation Department report accused the carriers of everything from sloppiness to outright deception. Well, duh…

W hotels are a waste of time and money. Most of them are worse than the tired, aging properties they replaced. Note to Barry Sternlicht: Dressing up your staff in black and gray doesn't make them hip. It just makes them monochromatically arrogant.

It's curious that no airline is matching American's canny--and comforting--decision to remove rows to add legroom to their coach seats. American loses nothing except a couple of low-fare travelers per flight and is now top of mind whenever a frequent flyer needs to fly coach at the last minute.

Doesn't it seem that everything in a hotel mini-bar has 20 grams of fat per ounce? Even relatively harmless foods--popcorn, pretzels--get coated in chocolate or cheese before they make it to the mini-bar.

It's a shame that there are no books in print by Jimmy Cannon, the brilliant columnist who created the Nobody Asked Me, But… format. Next time you're in a used bookstore, try and find one of his books.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.