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 The Brancatelli File

joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 30, 2000 -- Nobody asked me, but…

United's decision to raise business fares as much as $100 each way just before Thanksgiving proves exactly how cruel, calculating and utterly incompetent the airline's management really is. To raise fares the equivalent of about 10 percent while you are running the worst airline in the country is cruel. To raise fares while business travelers' attention is diverted by the holidays and the Presidential election is calculating. To impose a record-breaking fare increase after your domestic traffic has plummeted during each of the last four months is simply incompetent. We already know that no one at the top levels of United's management knows how to run an airline. It appears none of them knows how to run a business, either.

And shame on all the other airlines that went along with that United-initiated fare increase. According to American Express, the "typical business" fare in September jumped 13 percent compared to the third quarter of 1999. Can someone--anyone?--explain to me what the airlines have done for us that justifies adding as much as $100 more each way on top of that breathtaking 13 percent year-over-year fare hike? Or do the airlines think they deserve to raise prices at the same speed as their on-time performance has deteriorated?

Nobody asked me, but…

Isn't it about time someone admits we had a tie in Florida? With 5.9 million votes cast, a 600-vote "victory" margin is the equivalent of one-hundredth of one percent. I have no confidence that either machines or humans can count to that level of accuracy. Neither candidate deserves to claim a mandate for the Presidency based on a "win" in Florida. I propose a more reasonable approach to choosing a winner: First candidate to successfully use frequent-flyer miles to claim a free seat to Florida on President's Day Weekend gets the Oval Office.

And what exactly did Andy Card do as Secretary of Transportation to justify his being named President-Presumptive Bush's chief of staff? If helping screw up the nation's air-transportation system qualifies you for a plum job, then President-Possible Gore has any number of bumbling Democratic former Transportation Secretaries from which to choose.

Nobody asked me, but…

Six months after United's purchase of US Airways was first proposed, I still know only one person who'd benefit from the deal: Steve Wolf. The chairman of US Airways would cash in to the tune of $70 million if the airline is sold off to United. The rest of us, business and leisure travelers alike, would get coal in our Christmas stocking.

I don't really care if US Airways "fails" without the United purchase. If US Airways went under, it would sell itself off in pieces--the Shuttle service, its international routes, the hubs along the East Coast--to a variety of competitors. That's preferable to shifting everything to the control of United, which is already the nation's largest and worst airline.

Nobody asked me, but…

I could live without in-flight E-mail. Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are already testing systems and I guess in-flight E-mail is inevitable, especially on long-haul service. But this final and irreversible intrusion on what used to be our best "quiet" time will make our lives on the road that much more stressful.

I think Yodlee.com is the neatest innovation for business travelers in years. The site's My Yodlee function allows you to aggregate your life on one page: bank accounts, investments, credit cards, frequent-travel plans, and even E-mail. When you're on the road--or even if you're sitting at your desk or your home office--you can tap into your Yodlee profile and see most of your life consolidated and organized on one page. Best of all, Yodlee is free and easy to use.

Nobody asked me, but…

I'm really surprised how few business travelers know they can cash frequent-travel points and miles for more than just airline tickets and hotel rooms. American Express and Diners Club have extensive points-for-merchandise plans. And the leading hotel frequent-travel plans offer merchandise awards, too.

I'm suddenly worried about deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), which is popularly called "economy-class syndrome." This is a sudden and possibly fatal condition caused by lack of movement over a sustained period of time, such as a long airline flight. A 28-year old woman died last month after sitting in a coach seat throughout most of a 12,000-mile, 20-hour flight between London and Sydney. Her death was common for the syndrome, which involves a blood clot forming in a vein, probably in a leg, and traveling rapidly into the heart or lungs. It's time we all made sure we get up and move around during flights. Talk to your doctor about an in-flight exercise regimen.

Nobody asked me, but…

I'm no longer surprised when airline executives tell me--off the record, but without prompting--that it's time to consider re-regulating the nation's air-transport system. Even they are appalled by the system they have wrought. And most of them are tired of having to defend the goofy fares and the bad service with a straight face.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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