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 The Brancatelli File

joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

December 8, 2005 -- Nobody asked me, but…

It could take weeks or months to unravel the moment-by-moment truth about the death of Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami Airport yesterday. But this much we already know: Federal air marshals have so little confidence in the passenger-screening process at airport security checkpoints that they felt they had reason to take this guy down. Four years after 9/11 and air marshals think that people might still be getting through with a bomb. That is a terrible indictment of our screening system.

Explain to me how the Transportation Security Administration's decision to allow some potentially deadly devices in check-in bags will make things better? And how, exactly, will a TSA screener and a passenger arguing over the size of a scissor blade speed things up at the checkpoint?

Nobody asked me, but…

Virgin America said today it had raised $177 million and wants to launch service next year. It still has no planes, no crews, no routes and, most importantly, no government approvals. Unless it pulls a rabbit out of Richard Branson's hat--say, buying bankrupt Independence Air, which wants to auction itself off--Virgin America won't launch in 2006. Just like it hasn't launched every year since Branson first announced it in 1999.

When, exactly, did Richard Branson say he would finally explain why he bailed at the last minute on the deal that would have made the airline now known as JetBlue an airline called Virgin America?

Nobody asked me, but…

I haven't seen or played with one yet, but I like the idea behind Slingbox. I'll be working in Europe for five weeks in January and February. It'd be cool to watch… Oh, never mind. There's nothing worth watching. Why bother slinging the signal across an ocean.

Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC (8 p.m. and midnight weekdays) is actually worth watching. Real news is hard enough to find. News with insightful analysis is even harder. Olbermann offers news, analysis and an appropriately cynical view of things. And he makes me laugh.

Nobody asked me, but…

You'd be foolish to accept a voucher--hotel, meal, space-available seat--from a bankrupt airline. Dozens of travelers have shown up with these vouchers at hotel front desks and airport restaurants only to be told the chits won't be honored because the bankrupt carrier recently stiffed the supplier.

Don't you love the chutzpah of Northwest Airlines? It houses hundreds of replacement workers in hotels around Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport in expectation of the mechanics strike that began last August. Then, when it went into bankruptcy in September, Northwest refused to pay the hotels that put up the replacement workers. Needless to say, don't take a hotel voucher from Northwest if they hang you up at its Minneapolis hub.

Nobody asked me, but…

I think it's interesting that Carl Icahn has made a hostile offer for Fairmont Hotels. At least Carl is honest: He's in it for the money. And he sees lots of money in that real-estate that Fairmont owns. You and I call them hotels, of course, but they're real estate and Carl knows it.

Why is it that hotel companies don't want to own hotels anymore? Hilton, Starwood, InterContinental and the other big hotel chains have sold so many hotel buildings this year that Milton Bradley is running out of little red pieces of plastic for their Monopoly sets.

Nobody asked me, but…

When I first started working in my father's shoe store as a kid 40 years ago, he asked me to wish people "Happy Holidays!" He wanted me to understand that not everyone was a Christian and that the Jewish people and many of the other nice folks who shopped in his neighborhood store celebrated a holy day at the end of the year, too. I'm pretty sure my father is not and has never been part of the vast conspiracy to destroy Christmas.

I guess I don't understand. Who are we insulting if we don't call it a Christmas tree? I'm just checking because I went to Catholic schools for a long, long time and Christmas trees were never in the Catechism or anything…

Nobody asked me, but…

It's official: If you buy 50 days in advance and stay over on a Saturday, the airlines will sell you a Z-class international business-class seat at 60 or 70 percent off their C or J fares. But why 50 days? Why not 49 days or 51 days? Or 150 days?

It's cool to use one of those Z-class fares to grab a cheap, comfortable seat to a major city in Europe or Asia. But watch out for those connecting flights to secondary cities on the low-fare carriers that operate overseas. They often have a free baggage allowance as low as 15 kilograms a person. That's about 34 pounds total. At about $5 a pound, a business traveler toting, say, 75 pounds of luggage from the United States or Canada, will pay more than $200 in excess-luggage fees.

Nobody asked me, but…

Here's an idea worth thinking about: When a company has to declare Chapter 11, the top management must resign. I mean, why do the guys who drove the company into bankruptcy get to continue running the show?

The pilot's union at Delta Air Lines wants to take a strike vote so its members can strike if a bankruptcy judge allows Delta's management to void the pilot's contract and unilaterally impose salary scales and working conditions. Delta, like United and US Airways before it, claims that a strike would be illegal. When, exactly, did it become legal to force employees to work for salaries and working conditions that they didn't agree to? I mean, this is still America, right?

Nobody asked me, but…

The first thing I thought when I heard Diners Club had lost four or five airlines from its rewards program was, "One less thing I have to take on the road." I think that a lot these days, which is why I won't get an iPod or a PDA and have thinned out my carry-on bag. 'Tis the season to simplify, folks.

It's a shame that there are no books in print by sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, who invented the "Nobody Asked Me, but…" format. But haunt a used bookstore. A Cannon book would make a great holiday gift…uh, Christmas present…uh, Chanukah gift…uh, New Year's present…uh, Tet present…uh, Kwanzaa gift. Oh, forget it…

Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.