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 The Brancatelli File

joe CALIFORNIA
DREAMIN'


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

September 21, 2000 -- Physically unwilling and mentally unable to face even one more flight, I grabbed a convertible this week and motored my way up the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The view was awesome, the price was right--a new convertible for $298 a week from Hertz!--and, needless to say, the driver's seat of a ragtop is a lot more comfortable than another middle seat in coach.

Still, my California dreaming was constantly interrupted by thoughts of business travel. Maybe it was the goofy temperature swings--according to the dashboard thermometer, it was 120 degrees one morning in the San Fernando Valley, 57 degrees halfway up the coast and 102 degrees when I reached the Silicon Valley late in the afternoon--but my feeble brain was stimulated. I kept scribbling down notes at every stop along the way.

Here's what you think about while you're pumping $2 a gallon gasoline in a rented car on the other side of the country from home.

When will United stop lying to passengers at the boarding gate? Their electronic sign boards always flash "Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit passengers to two carry-on bags." Absolutely not true. The FAA doesn't have a regulation about the number or size of bags a traveler can carry-on.

Ever get the feeling that clerks at the front desk of some hotels have never checked in a guest before? If I go to one more hotel where the clerk looks at the computer screen as if it is a digital copy of War and Peace, I may start sleeping in my rented convertible.

I don't have much good to say about the empty suits who run the Official Airlines Guide these days, but give them credit for the new Find a Flight function on the home page of OAG.com. You can't book tickets, but it's the fastest way to find all the scheduled service available on a route.

Kudos to American Airlines chief Don Carty credit for admitting what no other airline executive would publicly say about airport delays. "Of course we over-scheduled," he said about how the major carriers abused the air-traffic system this summer.

I'm worried about the disappearance of quality travel-related content on the Internet. Wanderlust, the excellent online travel magazine edited by Don George, disappeared from Salon.com. Skymalltravel.com, which had a great daily roundup of travel news, no longer exists. And even the admirable 1stHeadlines.com dropped travel from its roster of featured topics.

What part of "Put a coffeemaker in every room!" don't hotel general managers understand?

You think maybe Senator John McCain's Straight Talk Express went careening off the track last week when he questioned the patriotism of pilots because they exercised their constitutional and contractual rights to decline overtime assignments? I don't see the Arizona Republican questioning the patriotism of Bill Franke, the bean counter who's running Phoenix-based America West into the ground.

Speaking of bad service, somebody at American Express better get the message that Platinum Card holders are beginning to realize they can leave home without it.

A few United Mileage Plus 1K flyers who defected to American because they were granted instant AAdvantage Executive Platinum status are bitching that their perks were better at United. That's true, but American offers a flight schedule that isn't a work of fiction and that should count for something.

Have you noticed that waiters and cashiers at airport restaurants and shops act as if you have all the time in the world? Do you think any of them understand business travelers have a plane to catch?

How come none of the major full-service airlines post their Contract of Carriage on their website? By law, the contract is supposed to be available at any ticket counter, but I've never seen a counter that actually has one. You'd think the carriers would at least bury the contract somewhere on their sites. Just to make believe they give a damn.

Speaking of which, anybody heard from the airlines about their Customer First initiatives lately?

Ever met a frequent traveler who wasn't a luggage freak? Neither have I. So check out Skyroll. It's an interesting new take on a carry-on bag. In fact, it's essentially a garment bag that rolls into a duffel bag.

Have you noticed that we've seen Bush and Gore campaigning off the sides of Mississippi steamboats, from the back of trains and even from the comfortable confines of chartered jets? But neither one has flown commercial this summer. How fast would the air-travel system in this country improve if our presidential candidates were forced to fly coach at full fare?

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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