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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE UNBEARABLE WEIRDNESS
OF BUSINESS TRAVEL


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

April 26, 2001 -- Feeling stressed and in desperate need of la dolce vita, my frequent-flying wife and I cashed some miles earlier this month, flew to Rome and hid out for 10 days.

We had a glorious time. We ate. We commiserated with Romans appalled by the chilly, drizzly April weather. I couldn't help myself, so I wandered through several hotel lobbies and guest rooms and poked around Fiumicino airport. We ate some more. We hit a few museums. And we desperately tried to figure out the intricacies of an Italian TV game show called Passaparola, which somehow manages to feature two teams of guests answering questions; puppets that disrespect the host, Gerry Scotti, who is the Regis Philbin of Italy; a roller-skating co-host named Alessia, who always wears very tight clothes; a band called Orioles; a gigantic book; two judges; and a half-dozen leggy showgirls dressed in impossibly revealing red circus outfits and shaking their booty with alarming abandon.

But the peculiarities of Passaparola pale in comparison to the unbearable weirdness of the business-travel stories I found when I returned to my office this week. I won't even attempt to find a greater meaning in them. I'll just pass them along and let you draw your own conclusions.

NIMBY The powerful folks who live in the swanky New York and Connecticut suburbs around Westchester County airport love convenient flights, just not in their backyard. So for years they have strangled the airport by imposing a "voluntary curfew" that bars flights before 6:30 a.m. But several carriers recently launched service before the "voluntary" start time and the flights have drawn substantial support. In an attempt to discourage travelers from using the early-morning flights, the Westchester County Board of Legislators has voted to close the airport parking garage between 12:30 a.m. and 5:50 a.m. "This is an attempt to adjust user decisions," said board chairman George Latimer.

THROW HIM A BONE Jet Airways, a private Indian carrier, has been ordered to pay a passenger about $215 in compensation for a bad meal. The passenger, a vegetarian, was eating rice and lentils from a dish labeled vegetarian, but found what was later identified as a chicken bone in the meal. After a two-year struggle in the Indian courts, the passenger proved he had suffered intense mental anguish. The court found he had been "sentimentally disturbed" and ordered Jet Airways, which originally offered a free ticket as compensation, to pay $215 plus court costs.

APRIL IN ATHENS A 23-year-old Frenchman on an Olympic Airways flight waiting to depart Athens airport for Paris stripped off all his clothes in front of the cabin crew. He was removed from the flight and has been charged with obscene public behavior.

PETTY THEFT Three employees of an airline caterer at New York's Kennedy Airport were arrested last week. Their alleged crime: stealing hundreds of cases of miniature bottles of liquor worth $1.5 million. The local district attorney says the men stole the booze over a period of 16 months and sold it "wholesale" to local delis and neighborhood grocery stores. All three men, plus a fourth suspect who helped transport the goods, face up to 15 years in prison.

SEAT SELECTION I British Airways has apologized to a business traveler who said he felt humiliated when a flight attendant asked him to move because he was sitting next to two unaccompanied children. The children, both aged 13, had not complained, but British Airways has a previously unannounced policy of keeping men away from unaccompanied minors whenever possible. "We introduced the policy in response to customers asking us to make sure their children are not seated next to men," explained a BA spokeswoman in London. "We were responding to a fear of sexual assaults. It's done with the best of intentions." The business traveler said he "was upset and embarrassed when I was asked to move. I felt I was being singled out and that I was being accused of something."

TIMING IS EVERYTHING A court in Madrid has ordered Iberia to pay about $1,350 in damages to a family whose flight was delayed by six hours. Iberia argued that the contract of carriage relieved it of any responsibility for delays. The judge dismissed Iberia's claim and characterized the contract as "abusive." Iberia says it will appeal the decision.

COLD COMFORT A Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo made an emergency landing last month after the crew smelled smoke in the cabin. The plane landed in the remote Alaska community of Cold Bay, site of a World War II vintage runway and home to just 69 people. Villagers took the 220 stranded passengers and crew members into their homes and offered rice, home-canned salmon, biscuits, bacon, blankets and spare bedding. "All the women in the community brought their rice cookers," said emergency medical technician Eric Skansgaard. Students stayed up late using the school's phone and Internet lines to send messages. As a token of its gratitude, Delta says it will give Cold Bay $7,000 to enable the community to receive a matching grant from the state of Alaska for a new two-way radio system. Delta also sent 50 cases of fresh fruit and vegetables and a supply of Delta T-shirts.

SEAT SELECTION II A woman from British Columbia is demanding compensation from Continental Airlines after the man sitting next to her on a flight from Bali died en route to Honolulu. As the woman tells the tale, the Continental plane landed on a remote island between Guam and Honolulu and a middle-aged man in a hospital gown was brought aboard. About three hours later, the man died. But because the flight was full, the flight attendants did not move the dead man. They returned his seat to the upright position "and they just sort of propped him up with a pillow under his head and tucked him in like he was having a nap," said the distraught woman. Continental Airlines has not revealed the cause of the man's death or his medical condition.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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