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 The Brancatelli File for 2006

joe December 28 Reel Life: Elizabeth Taylor in an Airport Lounge
'Tis the season for snowbound airports and all sorts of important decisions, but most frequent flyers I know couldn't give a fa-la-la-la-la about that stuff now. We're most likely at home, off the road and blissfully free of business-travel commitments until after the New Year. So let's take that free time and watch some classic movies about business travel.

December 21 What I Wish for You
Fifty weeks a year I am deliriously content to chronicle the realities of our lives on the road. It is my job, my passion, my duty and, I freely admit, a comforting crease in the fabric of my own life on the road. But this is the last column of the year and, just this once, I want to write about what I wish business travel was about. So here's my wish list for business travel and for your holidays.

December 14 Working Off the Map in the New London
Canary Wharf is transforming London, but you've got to understand the history and geography of the British capital. The economic engines of 21st-century British commerce--the banks, the media, the lawyers and the technology cartels--are building on the ground literally used by the economic engines of the old British Empire. And the new London has its own problems that make it much less than a perfect place for visiting business travelers.

December 7 Lost
By any rational business standard, John Goldener is exactly the kind of frequent flyer that US Airways can almost never lose. By every logical business measure, John Goldener is also the kind of premium-class passenger that US Airways should never want to lose. The story of how US Airways lost this Philadelphia-based, super-elite frequent flyer reminds us all how quickly a major carrier will abandon customers when it suits its corporate ego or its marketing strategy of the moment.

November 30 Seen in 'C.' Sort of. Eventually.
Want good news about life on the road? Here it is: International business class is getting better. The seats are becoming beds and the beds are getting bigger. But the installation times are fantastically long and it could be years before we see what the airlines are promising. And even then we won't get it on every route or every plane. But assuming we'll get the good stuff somewhere, sometime, here's a look at what's coming.

November 23 My 13 Sure-Fire Holiday Travel Tips
How will frequent flyer and holiday travelers survive and co-exist until the end of the first week of January, the traditional end of the end-of-the-year holiday rush? Here are a baker's dozen of my best suggestions. The more you fly, the more you know this stuff. But it never hurts to read the list and check it twice.

November 16 Merging Toward Oblivion
There are dozens of reasons why US Airways almost certainly will not be able to pull off its "hostile merger" with Delta Air Lines. I can muster only one good argument for letting US Airways do its proposed Delta deal: The more often the fools who think up these idiotic mergers get their way, the faster they hasten the demise of the legacy carriers. And since I can't think of a better way to improve our lives on the road than to speed up the death of these aeronautic dinosaurs, I say let 'em merge.

November 9 Delta's Operational Meltdown
In the almost 14 months since Delta Air Lines declared bankruptcy, it has been on a desperate, breakneck drive to remake itself. Lately it's declared itself on the way to recovery and even posted a quarterly profit this week. But what Delta won't tell you is that it is currently the least-reliable, most-delayed, most-likely-to-lose-your-luggage carrier in the nation. Things are particularly bad at New York/Kennedy, where its runaway expansion has been an operational disaster.

November 2 I'm Getting Old. Here's An 'Old Reliables' List.
I've gotten too tired and too jaded for the global hot spots. What I want today on the road is restaurants like they used to be: reliable dining rooms that are synonymous with how people eat locally in the cities that I visit. So here's my first list of "old reliables" in a dozen American cities and a few major gateways around the world.

October 26 All Business Class All the Time
The most appealing new idea up there--all business-class flights that jettison leisure travelers and cater only to our peculiarities--is showing up on a bellwether route like New York-London and making its bones on a niche run like Chicago-Düsseldorf. Life on the road may be more of the same-old same-old in the middle of the pack, but business travelers are suddenly living large on the busiest transatlantic routes and some of the most peculiar ones. All the details and a complete chart.

October 19 Nobody Asked me, But...
Business travel keeps getting weirder and I've got some thoughts about purgatory (and worse) at the security checkpoint; what's disappearing from hotel rooms; the airplane name game; Delta's new seats; getting unsolicited airline apologies; mishandled luggage and a cheap way to ship toiletries; Mark Foley and Mallomars. Hey, somehow it all hangs together (I think) and some of it will make you laugh (I hope).

October 12 Hearing the News Ain't Like Being There
Melanie once wrote that hearing the news ain't like being there. Well, for all the grief, business travel has given me the chance to be there when major events have happened around the world. It's the one true thing about business travel: Nothing's like being there. Frequent flyers feel it. And everything's real because it's happening to us.

October 5 The News. No Fooling Around.
You know how this column works, right? We talk, joke, schmooze and then, eventually, get to what's news in business travel. But there's no time for that this week. Too much news, including the latest eye-popping lost-baggage statistics; United CEO Glenn Tilton doing his best barbarian at the gate imitation; another wrong-headed change in the Wright Amendment; still more laptop battery recalls; and a whole mess of delays we business travelers should be used to.

September 28 Bags, Bottles, Lotions, Potions, Pigs in Pokes
The passenger air-travel system has always sat uneasily at the confluence of commerce and security. This week we also learned that it perches perilously at the intersection of an entrenched government bureaucracy and desperate corporate opportunism. It's the kind of stuff that makes you want to put a bag over your head. But even that is problematic. Unless you're a literal pinhead, you'll need the two-gallon size to fit over your noggin and the TSA now says only quart-sized bags may pass.

September 21 Surviving the Checked-Bag Lottery
This hasn't been a good year for us business travelers who prefer to pack light and carry on our bags. Some of us may even have been tempted to check a bag. But, as usual, when we need the airlines the most, they're missing in action. Or more accurately, more of the checked luggage we've entrusted to them has gone missing in action. But in the face of skyrocketing lost-bag rates, I do have some useful tips to improve your chances of getting your checked baggage through the system--and some precautions to take if the airlines screw up and "mishandle" the luggage you do check.

September 14 The Early Flyer Is the Least Delayed
I've been looking over airport on-time performance ratings and I've come to an inescapable conclusion: The Early Flyer is the Least Often Delayed. You can't ignore the tale of the stats: Book a flight early in the day--sometimes very early--and you stand a decent chance of getting an on-time arrival. Fly in the afternoon and the odds of a delay increase dramatically. Fly in the evening and abandon all hope. Here's an airport-by-airport look at when to fly--and when not to.

September 7 Five
It is five years now. Sometimes it feels like five seconds. Sometimes it feels like 500 years. Either way, I think I know just one thing for sure about 9/11: None of us have really come to terms with this thing that we have reduced to a numeric acronym. But once a year, at least, I think we should try. If not to look the horror of 9/11 straight in its face, at least to take a moment to stop and reflect.

August 31 The Big Catch-Up Column
A major food magazine's blind taste test recently said Hunt's tastes better than Heinz, but I'm not talking about that kind of ketchup. This catch-up column is meant to bring you up-to-date on recent business-travel developments that are sure to affect you after Labor Day. Among the topics: still another change in carry-on rules; water as the ultimate in-flight amenity; possible hotel strikes; the expanding laptop battery recall; how to beat AOL; 24/7 hotel gyms; bad security omens; and the endless circus at the top of Amtrak.

August 24 Standing in the Shadows of Summer
I don't mean to go Motown on you, but we're standing in the shadows of summer and I don't know a business traveler who won't be glad to bid this particular season adieu. It's been a tough summer. Unfortunately, fall may not be any better. What's the autumn travel agenda? Endless changes at the security checkpoints. Endless airline publicity trying to win a lucrative new route to China. Endless gossip and rumors about Big Six mergers. A spate of problems at US Airways, which has ducked the hard parts of last year's mergers. A season for reckoning at Newark and more.

August 17 Nobody Asked Me, But...
Here are some deep thoughts on life after the liquids ban; another summer of chaos at Heathrow; the soundtrack of life on the road; why astronomers and security screeners may have something in common; more of the Big Six bosses being their usual selves; the other Joe's new blog; how a Pepsi commercial eerily predicted our current predicament; how high-tech is changing travel; and much more.

August 10 Some First Thoughts About the New 'New Normal"
Eight-ten will go down as a day of massive delays and the day that toiletries firms made a lot of money for nothing. But 8/10 won't be another 9/11. Or 7/7. Or 3/11. Nobody died on a plane at the hands of a terrorist today. There's your silver lining. We're all still here to kvetch another day. We don't have another bit of numeric shorthand for horrific death in the lexicon. Meanwhile, how will we cope in a world with no carry-on toiletries, no in-flight bottled water, a possible ban on our electronics and more? Some first thoughts on coping with the new "new normal."

August 3 Breaking News About Northwest Airlines
Northwest Airlines has unilaterally imposed a contract on its flight attendants. The flight attendants, who twice rejected the concession-laded contract, say they'll launch a job action by the middle of August. Northwest wants its bankruptcy court to stop the strike. But since when are labor forces required to work under contract terms that they never agreed to and specifically rejected? Read all the latest news on this volatile situation.

July 27 Seems Like I Write This Stuff Every Week...
Strange and disturbing as it may seem, this is the beginning of the tenth year of the Internet-specific version of The Brancatelli File. So what have I learned after bashing out two and sometimes three Internet columns a week for nine years? What else have I gleaned after nine more years of life on the road? Sadly, only that nothing much has changed. Read how this week's news about United, American, Northwest, Delta and all the others is eerily similar to July of 1997, 1999, 2003 or 2005.

July 20 Road Tales of Pique, Passion and Protest
Life on the road has been difficult this summer and I wouldn't dream of adding to your burden, so let me just tell you a few on-the-road tales of protest, pique, television mobsters and, oddly, an airport shuttle bus hijacking. Read about Etihad, the lavish new carrier launching service between New York and Abu Dhabi; Air Canada's wild problems in Newfoundland; why Paulie Walnuts is suing a casino; and more.

July 13 Thoughts From the Handbasket En Route to Hell
Ever since the French guy head-butted the Italian guy last Sunday, the world has been going to hell in a handbasket. And, frankly, it's hard to focus on business travel when we seem on the brink of war and chaos around the globe. But here are some ruminations on plummeting on-time ratings, rising oil prices and falling airline stock prices; the decade after TWA 800; shrinking legacy carriers; the most costly business-travel cities; and much more.

July 6 Notes from 'The Hilo Side'
Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, got its first mainland flight in decades in April. ATA Airlines now flies a daily Boeing 737 nonstop to Oakland. Volcanoes National Park aside, the Hilo side doesn't get a lot of tourism these days. It rains a lot and this isn't the Hawaii that the average tourist comes to see. Still, the Hilo side has its charm. And I have some notes to share.

June 29 High-Tech and Highway Robbery in the Skies
There's a fine line between high-tech and highway robbery and Verizon and Boeing have now learned that bitter lesson. Verizon is throwing in the towel on Airfone and Boeing has all but given up on Connexion. Considering how much we depend on the Internet and the ferocity of the debate over whether we should allow travelers to use personal mobile phones in flight, you can be forgiven for wondering how these two services could be failing. That's where the highway robbery part comes in.

June 22 The Summer Business-Travel Agenda (Sorry!)
Welcome to the first weekend of summer. I hope you're up on the roof, under the boardwalk, down by the sea…anywhere but on the road. In fact, I wish you could stay off the road all summer because it's gonna be a tough one. What should you expect? Higher prices, more delays, more mechanicals and broken promises from the TSA. On the other hand, the summer will also bring a rarity--a quarter of Big Six profit--and some good news: major overhauls in business class on many airlines.

June 15 Bridging the Business-Travel Culture Gap With China
Rebecca Bardes went to China to teach English and see a new part of the world. She came back with a husband, a consulting firm and, most important for us business travelers, a treasure trove of useful information and strategies about doing business in and business with the world's newest economic superpower. Unless you're an old China hand--and who really is?--this is useful intelligence you need to know.

June 8 Lose Love? Absurd! Close DFW? Now There's an Idea...
The never-ending battle between American and Southwest over the Wright Amendment and flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field has bored us for a generation. But American has taken an ominous new approach lately: It's getting Texas Congresspeople to spend our tax dollars to advocate the closure of Love Field. I've done a study of the situation and it turns out that American is right. A Dallas airport should be closed. But not Love Field. I present facts, figures and indisputable logic to explain why we ought to close Dallas Fort Worth Airport, that white elephant of a financial boondoggle in the middle of nowhere.

June 1 Us. Explained.
No one who isn't a business traveler seems to understand us. They see what laughingly passes as our "lifestyle" and they focus on all the wrong things. We see drudgery. But business-travel wannabes, travel-industry marketing wizards and media types who speak to us, at us and past us see glamour and excitement, fancy hotels and first-class upgrades and a trail of perks and privileges. So I figure we'd better explain it all to them, slowly and clearly.

May 25: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Thoughts about hotels' curved shower rods, which break the laws of physics; Glenn Tilton, who somehow emerged as the largest individual shareholder of United Airlines; airline public relations people who quote themselves; the plummeting prices of airline stocks; the shaky debut of the new USAirways.com; Dylan at 65 and McCartney at 64; and much more.

May 18: A Fresh Start for Frequent Flyer Programs
Frequent-flyer plans are huge moneymakers for the legacy carriers. And since the terms moneymaking and legacy airlines are almost never used in the same sentence anymore, the Big Six are excited about the programs' 25th anniversary this month. But business travelers don't share the glee because frequent flyer programs stopped being truly useful for frequent flyers a long time ago. Can the programs be saved? Steve Grosvald, who helped create two of them, says that they can.

May 11: The Bankruptcy Boys Go Their Separate Ways
From the moment in early 1996 that former United Airlines boss Stephen Wolf took over what was then called US Air, the destiny of the two carriers has seemed inextricably bound. They shared codes, swapped self-aggrandizing managers, danced an obscene merger tango and were the first Big Six carriers into and out of bankruptcy. But this week, ever so slightly, the paths of the Bankruptcy Boys began to diverge. United kept on truckin' toward chaos and collapse. US Airways began showing some tentative but undeniable signs of intelligent life.

May 4: You're Smart. You Figure It Out.
The best thing about writing this column is that you are brilliant, especially about matters concerning life on the road. So you can figure out the implications of Delta killing Song; US Airways flying new Europe service without business class; the unpopular frequent flyer programs reaching their 25th anniversary; United's lame new Choices plan; the lack of privilege for Registered Travelers; and the carriers controlling the nation's 60 busiest airports.

April 27: The International Business-Class Fare Bazaar
As international carriers inflate the walk-up price of business-class seats, they've been forced to discount like crazy. There are more fare sales, special promotions, advance-purchase deals and price-cutting gimmicks than ever. Sprinkle in new airlines attempting to create an all-business-class market and several niche carriers looking to carve out an international presence and you've got nothing less than a worldwide fare bazaar. Add in some old reliables--consolidators and packages--and you're looking at business-class discounts of 50, 60 or even 70 percent off the walk-up fares.

April 20: United's Friday-Night Frequent-Flyer Massacre
United Airlines tried to bury a new package of Mileage Plus fees and award-level increases by releasing the news on Good Friday night. Yes, the changes are that bad, but it's more important to look at how the frequent-flyer programs themselves are changing. And the news is worse than the changes United tried to bury: The value of your miles is being diluted, the Big Six think you are suckers and they don't even value your loyalty anymore.

April 13: The Delta Strike Watch
Several years of Big Six retrenchment and reorganization may come to a head as Delta demands another round of gigantic givebacks from its pilots, the airline's only unionized labor group. As the two sides race a weekend deadline for an arbitrator's decision on a key contract issue, a strike could sink the airline. Here are the latest details.

April 6: The Spring and Summer of Our Business-Travel Discontent
So I opened my "business-travel outlook" file this week and a blizzard of bad news tumbled out: Too many passengers, too many small planes, too few empty middle seats, too many delays, too few employees to help and lousy weather. You don't need me to tell you that all those factors make for a toxic business-travel stew. So how will we survive the spring and summer of our discontent? Here are practical tips to help you plan better and control as much of your business-travel environment as possible.

March 30: Good Business-Travel News Doesn't Go Around
It's easy to find bad news about business travel. But spring is here and I don't have to fly next week, so I'm in a good enough mood to report some of the good news about business travel. Like the return of the PSA smile; a cool website that links you to thousands of streaming audio and video news feeds from around the world; a way to eat your way to more frequent-flyer miles; and the untimely, but much-welcomed, demise of a new travel surcharge. Read all about it before I change by mind and go back to reporting the bad news.

March 23: New Parables of the Frequent-Flyer Programs
Heard the one about the heretic and the bottled water? Or the parable of the holy man and the restricted-mile awards? What lessons can we learn from these parables? Restricted awards, especially for premium-class travel, are now like manna from heaven. In other words, very rare and possibly miraculous. And, perhaps more important, it's time to rethink our evangelical opposition to using miles and points for anything besides airline seats.

March 16: Separating the Crap from the Chaff at Northwest
Northwest wants to charge you $15 for a seat assignment in what are supposedly the least awful seats in coach. It shouldn't surprise you that a Big Six carrier is trying to do it, nor should it shock you that Northwest is trying it first. What's stunning about Coach Choice is the unabashed way it tries to rip off the travelers who show Northwest Airlines the most loyalty, generate the most revenue and already pay the highest fares.

March 9: Ten New Ways to Save the Airlines
When things are rotten in the airline business, the skygods who run the big carriers can't wait to get out of their corner offices and pontificate at investment conferences. There has been a spate of gabathons in recent weeks and the skygods all offered the same, sorry mantra: We need to raise fares. How dull and unimaginative. I've got ten better ideas to save the airlines, including airport car washes and yard sales, in-flight sales of Girl Scout cookies and one of my favorites: simple extortion. Hey, some of these tongue-in-cheek things might actually work.

March 2: Perilous Times for Us Bystanders
The nation's big airlines and the major hotel chains have embarked on several risky paths that will fundamentally affect how we travel in the months and years to come. My guess is that there isn't very much you and I can do about these situations. Frankly, we are just bystanders--perhaps not totally innocent ones, but certainly powerless ones. This is what to worry about in months to come: possible pilot strikes at Delta and Northwest; a nationwide hotel strike; and way too much new capacity on international routes.

February 23: Business Travel by the Numbers
Assessing an airline by the numbers isn't a perfect way to check any particular carrier's performance, of course, but you can learn some useful tips to make your life on the road a little easier. So let me guide you through the numbers to find the airlines with the most empty middle seats and the best on-time performance as well as the carriers with the least chance of losing your luggage. We'll also look at what's happened to Northwest since the mechanics strike (it's not good) and United after it boasted about its improved on-time performance (ditto).

February 16: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Here are some pithy and (I hope) useful thoughts about the TSA, Secure Flight and the Registered Traveler program; the folly of investing in travel stocks; good and bad high-tech tools on the road; Cheney's marksmanship; the Olympics; snowstorms and other stuff. Nobody asked me, but you might want to know.

February 9: This Year's Little Miracles for the Road
The thing about life on the road is that the "little miracles" that make us more productive have a very short shelf life. Keep that in mind when you read my list of this year's little miracles that make our lives easier. We've got hardware, software and other little tips you should consider.

February 2: Business-Travel News--and Lots of It
It's a busy week on the road, so no fooling around. Here are some thoughts on JetBlue's dive into the red; the cost of labor at Southwest and the Big Six; the big merger of Fairmont and Raffles hotels; and the concept of requiring I.D. on planes.

January 26: Why United Will Fail Again
There is a plethora of financial and operational reasons why the United Airlines that exits bankruptcy early next month will soon enough be back in Chapter 11 or desperately seeking a merger to keep itself afloat. But United will fail again primarily because it has no organizational heart, no identity and no definable brand. Most of all, it has none of the service vision and marketing discipline that's required to survive in the unforgiving skies.

January 19: The Big Six' Flying Circus
Monty Python said there'd be days like this. You know, days when you just need to put a handkerchief over your head, call yourself Mr. Gumby and moan, "My brain hurts." Why the brain pain? The Big Six carriers have begun to release their fourth-quarter earnings and are talking about the bonus packages they are giving to the executives who have run up all the losses. It all helps to explain why things are so rotten on the road just now.

January 12: Be Prepared...or Better Late Than Never
Just days after Hurricane Katrina, while we watched the underpinnings of modern life washed away from thousands of our fellow business travelers and millions of our fellow Americans, I began researching a column about putting together a practical "emergency kit" for both our lives on the road and our lives at home. Katrina was August. This is January. How quickly what seems urgent one moment seems like needless panic just a few moments later. But having an emergency kit is still a good idea. Here are some thoughts about what you should pack.

January 5: Looking for the Silver Lining on the Road
By any objective measure, life on the road in 2006 already stinks. Bad weather. Another United meltdown. Independence Air tanks. Delays. Cancellations. High Prices. But I'm not prepared to give up on 2006 just five days into the year. You can't live your life on the road and be that pessimistic. I'm going to assume things are going to get better. And there is some good news out there. Honest. Hilton buying Hilton is good news. The new credit card from US Airways is good news. And the off-season lower rates at New York hotels and restaurants is good news, too.

These columns originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.