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 The Brancatelli File

joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

February 15, 2001 -- Bill Clinton may have shamed us all by pardoning fugitive financiers, political cronies, campaign contributors and drug kingpins, but at least he didn't pardon any airline executives.

These are the five CDs I want in my carry-on bag if my plane goes down on a desert island: the original cast recording of Sondheim's Company; the Sinatra/Jobim album; The Beatles' Revolver; my Four Tops compilation; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Dylan's Blood on the Tracks; Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin; and Ray Charles' Ain't It So. I know that's eight, but I'm not as creative as the Tom Hanks character from Castaway, so I'm gonna be on that island forever.

US Airways chairman Steve Wolf apparently will say anything in order to seal the merger with United and get his $71 million payoff. When he testified before a House committee last June, he rejected suggestions that US Airways couldn't go it alone. "We'll do whatever we can to compete," he told a friendly Congressman who suggested US Airways was in imminent financial danger. But last week he told a Senate committee that the "status quo is not an option" and an independent US Airways was no longer a viable long-term proposition.

Continental chairman Gordon Bethune deserves praise for breaking the gentlemen's agreement that compels airline chiefs to make nice to each other in public. "There is nothing wrong with US Airways," he said last week. The problem is that US Airways is run by "a couple of guys who don't know how to run a good airline."

We already know that United chairman James Goodwin can't run a good airline. But it seems he can't count, either. Goodwin told the Senate last week that he did not "see us getting down to the two or three carriers…maybe we will get to five" mega-carriers. Well, let's do the math. If all the proposed mergers go through, then we'll already be down to five: United and American, which would control about half of the U.S. market; and Delta, Continental and Northwest. And since the Small Three won't sit still while the Big Two run half the nation, we'll be down to "two or three" in a blink of an eye.

You have to wonder why anyone listens to Goodwin anyway. Last year, in front of Congress, he actually testified that he didn't think a United-US Airways merger would lead to any other airline combinations. How's that prediction working out for you, Jim?

Anybody else notice that travelers continue to book away from United as a punishment for United's lousy service? Traffic is booming at the other carriers, but United's North American traffic in January was down 1.7 percent, the seventh consecutive month of domestic decline.

Octogenarian economist Alfred Kahn continues to make me smile. The man largely credited with (and blamed for) airline deregulation went before the Senate last week and admitted parts of the current system "just stink." Then, he opined, "Stink is an economic term."

Don't believe American Airlines when it wraps itself in the flag and claims it will save all the jobs of TWA's current employees. American's definition of "all" is union jobs only. Thousands of non-union TWA employees won't be retained if the American-TWA merger is approved.

Anyone remember the rationale United and Delta used when they started installing those hateful baggage templates? They claimed reducing the size of carry-on bags would lead to better on-time performance. So how come Delta finished 4th and United dead last in on-time performance for the year 2000? And how come Continental, which is opposed to templates and has the most liberal carry-on rules, finished with the nation's best on-time performance?

Alitalia was nuts to try to bully an unhappy passenger into closing his AlitaliaSucks.com Web site. It then compounded the error by taking the passenger to court. The trial judge, however, was brilliant: He demanded that a top Alitalia official appear in court. Alitalia then promptly dropped the suit.

Most business travelers are under-insured when it comes to emergency evacuation coverage. If you take ill on the road and need or want to be taken back to your own hospital, the cost of an emergency evacuation could run into tens of thousands of dollars. But one company, MedJet Assistance, offers reasonable and virtually ironclad coverage. It guarantees medical evacuation on demand from virtually any U.S. or international destination. I happily fork over $275 a year for family coverage.

I'm no longer the most crazed traveler on the web. Surf to JohnnyJet.com and you'll find the handiwork of obsessed frequent flyer John DiScala. For reasons known only to himself, DiScala (aka Johnny Jet) is endeavoring to build a travel portal that links to almost anything relevant on the web. If Johnny doesn't link to it, it probably doesn't exist yet.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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