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 The Brancatelli File

joe FOLLIES

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

April 5, 2001 -- Today not only marks the beginning of the fourth year this column has appeared at biztravel.com, it is also the day that a major revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies premieres on Broadway.

There are two reasons why this confluence is worth noting.

First, I have always wanted to be mentioned in the same sentence with Sondheim. But you've been reading this column for all or part of the last three years and you know that my only shot at ever being mentioned in the same sentence with Sondheim is to write the damned sentence myself. So I just did.

Second, the central theme of Follies--Can you live with the choices you've made in your life?--is also apropos for this column. As we have gone side by side by side into the woods of business travel during the last three years, we have made a choice.

We have chosen, you and I, every week for three years, to talk about life on the road as it really is. We have discussed the fact that not everything is coming up roses. We have gone to Barcelona. And Madrid. We have preached what we believe to be the truth about each other and about the airlines. We have done it with passion. We're always sorry for what we find out there. We're always grateful for having had the opportunity to be on the road in the first place.

And, most importantly, we're still here. That, as Sondheim so wittily and disturbingly notes in Follies, is no small victory.

We've taken everything the travel industry has dished out and we're still here. We have rolled merrily along regardless of how they have treated us. You needn't even bother dipping into the archives to find the indignities we have endured over these last three years. This week's news will do well enough.

TWA abandoned its service to Tel Aviv with no advance notice, just days before Passover, stranded hundreds of passengers and thumbed its nose at an Israeli court. A woman in Detroit suffered second-degree burns when a flight attendant on a Northwest flight spilled hot coffee on her, then refused the passenger's pleas for medical assistance.

And, just for some comedy tonight, there is always United Airlines. No obsessing about finishing the hat for these guys. United president Rono Dutta denounced an otherwise obscure airline quality report with a novel retort: "We're Number Six!" To refute the study's conclusion that United was a lousy airline, Dutta actually boasted that United "ranked sixth out of 11 major carriers in on-time arrivals," currently "ranks fourth of 10 majors" in mishandled bags, "fifth place of 10" in denied boarding and "ranks sixth overall out of the 10 majors in customer complaints."

As I said, fellow flyers, three years of life on the road at the mercy of these Sweeney Todds makes a simple declaration like "We're still here" a full-throated victory cry.

We're still here. You, me, and every frequent flyer who takes to the road. Eventually, the Duttas of the travel world will be gone. We'll have endured all the indignities they will have heaped upon us and we'll still be here.

Finally today, on the beginning of the fourth year when we first began meeting in this particular shard of Cyberspace, I need to disabuse you of two other follies.

There is a bizarre notion out there that this column belongs to me. There is also a weird suspicion that I create this column alone. Neither supposition could be further from the truth.

This column, in every sense, belongs to business travelers. What goes on here is not me talking to you so much as us talking among ourselves. What appears here is the product of our shared experience of life on the road. What you tell me in E-mails and telephone messages is crucial to the success of this column. What we discuss when we meet on a flight or in an airport lounge or a hotel lobby is a source of endless enlightenment. The robust personal E-mail correspondences we conduct--be it about an airline, a hotel, or anything from The Royle Family to Sinatra--is what gives this column life.

And, please, do not think for a moment that I create this column alone. My name and my mug may be at the top of this thing, but, trust me, it's the work of a company. A company in the best Sondheim sense.

This column wouldn't exist without the forbearance of Hal Rosenbluth, the guy who runs this joint. He's a frequent flyer, too, and he give me extraordinary freedom to write what is on our collective mind. It wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Ronnie Smith, our editor, who accepts with faultless good humor my exasperating habit of filing The Brancatelli File and The Tactical Traveler just moments before she has to post them. There are countless others--most whose names are unknown even to me--who have kept this site up and running. But one other name: Ted Carter, the bon vivant who brought me here three years ago and championed biztravel.com's unswerving commitment to producing the truth according to business travelers.

Three years and about 300 columns is forever in Internet time. I've cherished every moment. Thanks for clicking my link and allowing me to load on your computer screen. I hope you'll invite me back next week.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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