The Brancatelli File



March 15, 2007 -- Ever since the soothsayer urged Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March, this part of the year has dripped with foreboding and danger. And if "foreboding and danger" doesn't describe a life on the road, I don't know what does.

But who wants to be depressed now that Daylight Saving Time has come early, the weather has turned spring-like and there aren't, at least as I write this, any flyers being held against their will on a plane for hours on end?

I say the hell with the ides of March. It's time for some fun. Herewith some jokes. Honest, these are jokes. I apologize in advance if any of you confuse some of this stuff with a not-too-far-distant reality.

Unable to stop after its serial apologies for the airline's meltdown at Kennedy Airport last month, JetBlue Airways is now begging forgiveness for a whole range of other blues. "Elvis' version of Blue Suede Shoes was really awful and we want to apologize for it," JetBlue told customers in a full-page ad in this week's issue of Rolling Stone. "Have you ever seen that David Lynch movie, Blue Velvet? That was embarrassing and we're sorry." JetBlue also announced a new clause for the airline's Passenger's Bill of Rights. "No one should ever be subjected to songs called Blue Monday," the airline said. "If you hear the Chubby Checker tune called Blue Monday, we'll give you a coupon worth $25 off of your next flight. If you have the misfortune of hearing the New Order song called Blue Monday, we'll give you a $50 coupon. And if XM plays the Blue Monday mashup with Kylie Minouge's Can't Get You Out of My Head during your flight, we'll give you a refund and send you an apology every week until the day the airline goes out of business."

Thwarted in their attempts to take over ATA Airlines and Delta Air Lines, fleet-footed US Airways executives have a new target: defunct Eastern Airlines. "We've identified $477 in synergies in a US Airways-Eastern merger and that's enough to bring Eastern back from the dead," one executive said during an audio conference with securities analysts. Eastern hasn't flown since it folded in 1991, but US Airways says it doesn't fear the task ahead. "We can either do this Eastern thing or work on fixing the mess we created in the America West-US Airways merger," an executive said. "Fixing US Airways would require us to actually work at running an airline. Doing an Eastern merger is easier." The security analysts and industry experts immediately hailed the US Airways plan. "It's a great idea. The airline industry needs consolidation and a reduction in overall capacity," said one analyst. "But if you want to quote me saying that it's a bad idea and will destroy the nation's air-travel system, that's okay, too."

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has found a new niche in the crowded and confusing world of chain hotels: branded flophouses. "There's one segment of the lodging market that doesn't have a brand leader and that's flophouses," explained a Starwood executive. Over the next 18 months, Starwood hopes to open more than 100 branded flophouses in U.S. cities with skid-row neighborhoods. The chain's signature room amenity will be the LumpenBed, a specially configured, half-inch thick mattress with the lumps created by a famed French designer. Starwood says each hotel will also feature a FortiBar, a new, high-concept lobby bar that will only serve fortified wines such as Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird. In a nod to its soon-to-debut Aloft hotels brand, the new Starwood flophouse chain will be called Crash&Burn. Starwood considered attaching the company's Sheraton brand name to the flophouse concept but settled on Crash&Burn after existing Sheraton franchises refused to upgrade their hotels.

American Airlines executives said this week that the carrier's decision to remove lavatories from all of its narrow-body aircraft is part of a new round of cost-cutting aimed at "keeping American competitive" with low-cost carriers. "We looked at the options," one executive explained, "and the cost-effective thing to do was simply to eliminate the lavatories." Over the next eight months, lavatories on American's MD-80s, Boeing 737s and 757s will be replaced with additional seating in both coach and first-class cabins. "Besides the revenue we generate from the extra seats, we eliminate the cost of servicing and repairing the lavs," he said. "There is also an ancillary advantage: We won't get unfair negative publicity when the lavs overflow on planes where we've been holding passengers for 10 or 12 hours." Asked his advice for flyers who'll be traveling on flights without restrooms, the executive responded: "Bring your own bottle."

The Blackstone Group, an investment firm that has bought and sold a string of lodging chains in recent years, has shaken up the somnambulant car-rental industry by purchasing every rental station in the United States. In a transaction valued at $89,000, Blackstone purchased Hertz, the nation's largest rental firm; the Avis Budget Group; the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group; Vanguard Car Rental, which controls the National and Alamo brands; and dozens of other smaller chains such as Advantage. "We don't believe the fact that we own every car-rental outlet in the nation will change the service that customers receive," said a Blackstone executive. "After all, car-rental companies have been moving the same 11 Ford Focuses, 22 Lincoln Town Cars, six Dodge Caravans and three Cadillac Escalades around the country for years. We think that we can do it more efficiently if all the car-rental brands were under common management."

Faced with chronically delayed flights and high lost-luggage rates, Delta's commuter carriers this week officially abandoned published schedules. The commuter lines, which operate as the Delta Connection, said that they have collectively adopted the policy of flying whenever they damn well feel like it. "This is actually how we've operated for some time now and we think that it is wise to bring customer perceptions in line with the reality of running commuter airlines," said an executive of Comair, the Delta Connection carrier owned by Delta. "We urge customers to come to the airport and immediately go to the gate for their flight. The plane will leave whenever we think it's appropriate. When passengers arrive at their next airport, uniformed Delta agents will meet them at the gate to explain which connecting flights they've missed and what day they can be reaccommodated."

Remember when the State Department issued a travel warning urging Americans to defer unnecessary travel in the United States and Northwest Airlines did a code-share deal with Greyhound? It didn't happen, but I considered it in a column called When News Breaks, We Fix It. Or how about when Starbucks bought United and US Airways sold all of its planes? That never happened, either, but I covered it in a column called Christmas Cheer.

Copyright © 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.