The Brancatelli File
BY JOE BRANCATELLI
December 19, 2002 -- I launched this Web site in the dark and desperate days after 9/11 and I have been writing about business travel on the Internet since 1997. This is what I have learned so far:
We live here now.
We tromp silently onto planes of all sizes, work in a vacuum at airports of all configurations, speak a zillion languages and dialects, toil in thousands of businesses big and small and then plop down alone in hotels and motels all over the world.
But business travelers live here now. Not JoeSentMe.com in particular. But here, on the Internet. Wired to each other by E-mail and Web browsers and Web sites that band us together as a community.
We're bleary from jet lag, pummeled by too-small airline seats, plagued by lumpy hotel beds and cold coffee. We have been devastated by terrorism, humiliated by the accountants and demeaned by the airlines. We miss our friends and lovers and our spouses and children. There's always one more flight, one more room-service meal, one more presentation and one more rental-car drive to one more plant in one more suburb of one more city you never heard of in the first place.
We are the loneliest people in the world.
But now, at least, we know where our fellow travelers are. We live here, on the Internet, and now we have each other's E-mail addresses.
This is no small victory. Believe me, I know. I've spent years looking for a place where business travelers could come together and share their lives on the road.
I threw three years of my life at a magazine for frequent flyers. I've launched more business-travel columns for more publications than I can remember. I've done hundreds of radio and television shows. Only to find that a career's worth of living on the road doesn't always make for a suitably sexy sound bite or a compelling publishing proposition.
It doesn't matter anymore. We live here now. On the Internet.
The Web is where we can come and share what only we know: the realities of business travel. We can compare tips and swap strategies. We can vent when an airline does us wrong. We can spread the word when someone treats us right. We are not alone anymore. We have each other.
I learned that the very first day my first column posted on the Internet and E-mails started coming from London and Chicago and Tokyo. I knew it when I urged you to use travel agents and the E-mails from frequent flyers on both sides of the metaphoric aisle arrived like a cyber blizzard. I reveled in it when you all had an opinion about my opinions and you didn't think twice before bashing out an E-mail. I believed it when you started E-mailing this column to your friends and when you overwhelmed me with tips and queries and suggestions and requests.
We're much too busy to talk on the phone. Letters? Yeah, right. And who's got the time to chat on flights or gossip in the club rooms?
But the Internet? The Internet is always open.
In the middle of the night in a roadside motel in Sheboygen, our E-mail works. After a crummy flight and a long drive to Kingman, Barstow, or San Bernadino, the Internet will take our call. A world or two away, in Cairo or Cairns, we can still reach every other frequent flyer on the planet.
We all live here now.
Woe to the airlines and hotels and car-rental firms who think business travelers are too isolated and fragmented to be a united front. Woe to the travel-industry bigwigs who try to cram substandard products down our throats and then claim they are only giving us what we asked for.
The Internet binds us together now. There are still days when we may feel powerless, but our ability to communicate with each other has become a thorn in the metaphoric side of a travel industry that charges us too much and treats us like serfs. In fact, the Internet is already changing how the travel industry has to deal with us. Airline and hotel officials surf the chat boards over at Webflyer.com all the time now. They are afraid about what you say about them. They worry about what I write in this column. Now the whole world reads Joe Sharkey's reports at NYTimes.com and Keith Alexander's weekly business-travel dispatches at WashingtonPost.com.
We had no voice before. We had no platform before. We had no power before.
But now business travelers have E-mail and the Internet. We can find each other across time zones and continents and industries and airports. We are not alone anymore.
Our time has come because now we can communicate with each other. And when we can communicate, we can fight back. United Airlines is in bankruptcy at least partially because we shared our war stories about their actions in the summer of 2000 and we urged each other to book away. US Airways learned that in August when they tried to restrict our elite benefits. Delta is learning that now after telling some frequent flyers they are worth only half the flying they do.
We are using the Internet to deliver an ultimatum to the travel industry: Heal thyself and treat us fairly or we will stay away until you die.
The Internet is ours. This is where we live now and this is how we fight back.
This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com
Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.