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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE GOOD STUFF

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

April 12, 2001 -- Knowing we were headed into a bleak period of airline strikes, a miasma of merger-related disruptions and a winter of economic discontent, I suggested last month that we create our own good karma by talking about what was good about business travel.

For a bunch of road-hardened skeptics with one too many bad flights under your collective belt, you guys really produced. You stuffed my E-mail box with poetic reverie. ("I love running along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in Lima, Peru, on a Sunday night, past the couples kissing on the lawn.") You sent good luck ("In 25 years of traveling, I have never lost a bag.") and good vibes ("Traveling on business lets you get to know people all over the world; leisure travelers see buildings."). You praised off-the-shelf gestures ("Love the chocolate-chip cookies at Doubletree") and outrageous indulgences ("The nicest treat: caviar and Champagne between flights at Heathrow Terminal 4").

You grab the opportunities business travel offers. ("Put on a pair of sneakers for a pick-up game of basketball on a Sunday in Victoria Park, Hong Kong"). You take beauty where you find it. ("Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring is one of the prettiest places when it is in full bloom."). You revel in the passing scene. ("It's great to see the people of St. Paul, Minnesota, on the first day of sun in five months all eating lunch outside on the curbs.") And you love a wonderfully eclectic collection of people ("Gilberto, at Duke's Hotel in London, is the best barman in the world."), places ("H. Stern in Rio's international airport is the best place to buy gifts.") and things ("Fairfield Inns have recliners in their rooms!").

You have a sense of the absurd ("A helicopter ride from Monaco to the Nice airport is 50 francs less than a taxi.") and a sense of place ("I love the New Otani hotel in Tokyo: Oriental cuisine, a great garden, an outstanding spa and good service."). You know when you've got it made. ("What's better than the free limo pick-up and delivery you get with Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class ticket?") You praise the ingenious. ("I love hotel desk lamps with the electric plugs and the phone jacks built right in.") And you surely recognize good service when you get it. ("At the Four Seasons Los Colinas, the staff seems to vanish when they're not needed and appear out of thin air when you need something.")

But what do we love the most? You mentioned a handful of products and services over and over again and they surely deserve induction into our metaphorical Good News About Business Travel Hall of Fame. So, imagine a Cyberspatial drum roll, then read these verbatim snippets of praise from your fellow travelers.

MORE ROOM IN COACH AT AMERICAN
What an unexpected relief those three little inches provide. Now I can put my carry-on bag in front of me without getting leg cramps. I can also easily grab a book out of the bag I was delighted on a recent American flight with more legroom than I'm used to getting. I like the configurable headrests. It eliminates the fear of waking to find your head on the shoulder of a total stranger. Now I don't have dislocated kneecaps when the person in front of me reclines the seat!

THE MUSICIANS AT CHARLOTTE AIRPORT
In the common area where the terminals meet, Charlotte airport has rocking chairs, leather seats and musicians. I've heard some great stuff and I've seen the music change the dour faces of travelers. I really enjoy relaxing in a rocking chair for a few minutes and listening to the live music. I see ill-tempered people dashing through the concourse, but, as they pass by, they slow down and calm down. I once spent four hours there and had an enjoyable break from the work week. There was a musician playing the grand piano, the sun was streaming in and the rocking chairs seemed to encourage pleasant conversation.

HAMPTON INNS
Hampton Inns are always dependable and inexpensive and located most everywhere. If you travel frequently, you can use your Hampton stays to get Hilton HHonors Diamond status, then go to Hawaii and get upgraded to the Towers of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I have found the staff at Hampton Inns to be extremely accommodating and helpful. One night recently I arrived late and was looking for someplace to get a quick bite. The girl at the desk, seeing my desperate look, went into the back office and brought me out a slice of the pizza that had just been delivered.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
I am no fan of the boarding process, but the overall positive attitude of almost every Southwest employee is infectious. The cabin crew does a great job, the planes are clean and well maintained and did I mention the fares? I don't think I've ever seen an unhappy Southwest employee. You can fly from Nashville to Chicago on Southwest for about $90 roundtrip and the flight takes only about an hour.

MARRIOTT HOTELS
The front-desk staffers at the Ottawa Marriott are always helpful, remembering my name, telling me that my co-workers have checked in, upgrading me, asking me how my hometown of Chicago is. Courtyard by Marriott hotels consistently provide exactly the same basic amenities (exercise room, usable desk, clean room, TVs with CNN). They are staffed by people who never screw up my reservation and are unfailingly polite, even when I've had a long day and I'm not necessarily polite to them. I love the Brooklyn Marriott because it's just a stone's throw from Wall Street and a two-stop subway ride to Midtown Manhattan. You get bigger, more comfortable rooms than in Manhattan for a fraction of the New York price.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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