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joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

June 12, 2003 -- Nobody asked me, but...

This has been the most extraordinary few weeks for airline bargains--if you can plan way ahead. Ninety-nine bucks to continental Europe. Under $300 to Hong Kong and Singapore. Startling prices for fall travel if you book now. But these fares show you that there is very little pent-up demand for travel. Airlines have to give it away
to get anyone's attention.

I've yet to see the airline that's tried to logically convince business travelers to get back in the air. These fly-three, get-one-free, frequent-flyer deals, invented by United and now matched by all of the Big Six, are sad jokes. Why would anyone buy six outrageously overpriced walk-up fares from a Big Six airline just for the privilege of "winning" a 14-day advance-purchase, Saturday-stay ticket worth about $300 bucks?

Nobody asked me, but...

Hotels in New York and San Francisco are discounting ferociously this summer. The depressed economies in those two towns mean unbelievable bargains. I stayed at a good New York hotel last month for less than $120 a night! And if you can't find what you like direct from the hotel, try Quikbook or San Francisco Reservations. They are both reliable consolidators with consistently great deals.

The single most egregious rip-off in travel is the car-rental industry's so-called "refueling charge." One firm in Florida is actually charging $5.29 a gallon.

Nobody asked me, but...

What sense does it make to build a double-decked 550-seat plane like the Airbus 380 when the airlines keep shifting to itsy-bitsy, 50-seat regional jets
on all their routes?

How come the airlines stopped allowing travel agents to issue advance boarding passes because of security concerns but now it's okay to print out boarding passes off the Internet?

Nobody asked me, but...

I'm thrilled to hear that Rowan Atkinson has a new movie coming out this summer called Johnny English. I never go to the movies, but I look forward to seeing it on a flight this fall. But Eddie Izzard is now the funniest man on the planet and I've already booked my tickets for his world tour this fall.

Speaking of funny British stuff, can someone explain this one to me: NBC has a hit with Friends, so the BBC does its hilarious version called Coupling, which I first saw on a British Airways flight. And now NBC has put an Americanized version of Coupling on its fall schedule. Doesn't anyone at NBC remember the disastrous Amanda's Place, which starred Bea Arthur in an Americanized version of Fawlty Towers?

I'm sorry that John Cleese didn't make a movie of Fawlty Towers. He said the plot went something like this: Basil finally goes to Spain to visit Manuel's family. His plane is delayed for hours at Heathrow. Then his flight to Barcelona is hijacked. But Basil breaks up the hijacking. Then Basil hijacks the plane himself when he hears the pilot wants to bring the flight back to Heathrow. Basil Fawlty, infuriated traveler, sounds funny to me.

Nobody asked me, but...

Why is the Euro selling for US$1.18? Germany's economy is in the tank. France is a basket case. Italy's economy is underground. What, exactly, do investors see as the strength of the Euro?

It's okay by me if Britain decides to stay out of the Euro Zone and retain the pound. I mean, besides the fact that the damn notes don't fit in my wallet...

Nobody asked me, but...

I think the major airline in the most financial trouble is Continental. Its debt and lease load as a percentage of revenue is about 165 percent, the worst in the industry. In other words, they lease chief executive Gordon Bethune's shoes and don't have cash for the payment.

You're nuts if you think that all the negative publicity about overpaid airline executives has deterred the corporate buccaneers at Delta Air Lines. Its private, bankruptcy-proof slush fund for executives has just been expanded by two more corporate bigwigs. And the price for the program could reach $65 million next year, up from $25.5 million last year.

Nobody asked me, but...

Delta, Northwest and Continental say they will launch their Axis of Evil--I mean, their three-way code-share agreement--next week. I can't tell you how much I don't care.

What's the difference between a low-fare, no-frills carrier and a "full-service" airline when the full-service airlines no longer offer full service. I mean, why should I pay supposedly full-service US Airways $435 tomorrow for a roundtrip to Buffalo on rackety old turboprops when I can fly JetBlue for $200 roundtrip--and get new jets with leather seats, more room and free TV?

Nobody asked me, but...

What good is the Weather Channel when it's beamed into your hotel room via satellite? The satellite feed doesn't offer local weather on the 8s, so you're left with the forecast for Miami when you're in Minneapolis.

Has anyone actually used wireless Internet access at a hotel? I mean, hotels all jumped on the wireless bandwagon a couple of months ago when Intel gave them millions in co-op money as a way to promote the Centrino chip. But have you actually used wireless yet?

Nobody asked me, but...

I don't often agree with the Bush Administration, but they are on the right track with their idea to kill off Amtrak and let the states create and operate the train services they want and will pay for. After all, that's how the Europeans do it. There's no pan-European train authority, is there?

Three jet carriers in this country make money: Southwest, a 30-year-old, no-frills carrier; AirTran, a two-class carrier built on the ashes of ValuJet; and JetBlue, a one-class carrier with assigned seats and free TV. The only thing they have in common: a simple, logical fare structure with reasonably priced walk-up fares. Why is this so hard to understand?

Nobody asked me, but...

The best book I've read on a flight lately was A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. He shows how the flawed peace after World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire is at the root of many of the problems in today's Middle East.

There really is something wrong with the world when there are no books in print by Jimmy Cannon, the legendary sports columnist who invented the Nobody Asked Me, But... format.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

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