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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
May 3, 2007 -- Nobody asked me, but…

I'm so glad that the big airlines have begun putting frequent flyer award-availability calendars on their respective Web sites. Now we know for sure that there aren't any seats to be had at the restricted levels.

I'm also glad that the airlines have begun to add fare grids to their sites. Now we have proof that their pricing structure is totally insane.

Nobody asked me, but…

I was in a United Red Carpet Club on Sunday morning. I paid for WiFi access, there were no snacks and a half-dozen dog-eared newspapers, each of which had a big, green stamp that said "Property of the Red Carpet Club. Do Not Remove." Then I was in a Continental Presidents Club on Sunday night. The WiFi was free, there were all sorts of nice snacks and huge stacks of five different newspapers, all free for the taking. 'Nuff said.

One of the newspapers in the Red Carpet Club was a day-old copy of the Honolulu Advertiser. The lead story in the business section explained that Hawaiian Airlines would be outsourcing hundreds of call-center jobs to India. At the top of the "business briefs" column right next to the lead story was an item reporting that the compensation paid to Hawaiian Airlines' chief executive Mark Dunkerly in 2006 had doubled. 'Nuff said.

Nobody asked me, but…

I didn't think that this AirTran Airways-Midwest Airlines hostile takeover battle would go on so long. It actually looked like the sideshow to the now long-finished US Airways attempt to take over Delta Air Lines. But desperation and doggedness breed creativity and Midwest has posted a cute and effective self-defense Web site called Save The Cookie.

It won't be long before airlines start charging us for the privilege of using our credit cards to pay for our tickets. You can see it coming. All of the compliant aviation trade publications are reporting on a new survey that quotes the airlines whining about the rising cost of credit card merchant fees.

Nobody asked me, but…

The dollar is plummeting to record lows against the euro and the British pound. And it is having an effect on travelers. AAA-affiliated travel agencies say that bookings to Europe are down 3 percent compared to last year.

Or maybe this is why people are traveling less. Passing through security earlier this week, I watched the TSA screeners decide to secondarily screen a pair of hapless German tourists who spoke no English. First the wife, even though she passed through the magnetometer without incident. Then the husband, who did set off the alarm. Before secondarily screening him, though, they made him remove his canvas wallet and put it through the X-ray machine. Before he could retrieve it, however, he was pushed, bewildered, to an area off the side. I was right behind the couple, so I grabbed his wallet and brought it to a TSA screener. I also called out to the couple in German that I had given his wallet to a particular screener. "You with them?" the screener growled back at me. "No," I said, "but I do speak some German and you obviously don't. All I said to them was that I gave his wallet to you." She looked at me and snapped: "You have no right to do that. Please leave or I will have you arrested."

Nobody asked me, but…

I think Eddie Izzard is the funniest man on the planet. But I just can't get into The Riches, his new FX show about a family of con artists out to steal the American Dream. Maybe it's a cake-or-death kind of thing…

Am I the only one who thinks watching the final episodes of The Sopranos is more like homework than enjoyment? I admit that I've been ambivalent about the show ever since I figured it all out at the end of the second season--everyone lies to everyone, and themselves, and they do it all the time--but these last shows are a little too by-the-numbers for my taste.

Nobody asked me, but…

Speaking of television, Chris Elliott jumps out of the ink-stained pool and onto the small screen this month. His Fine Living Network show, What You Get for the Money: Vacations, will explore three vacation options at the same price point. Great concept! I've said for years that you can quantify the cost of travel, so I can't wait to see how the show does its comparisons.

It sounds to me like Don Imus is owed the almost $40 million remaining on his CBS contract. I have no problem with CBS firing him, you understand. But there does appear to be a warn-me-before-firing-me clause as well as a controversy-is-what-we-want stipulation in his contract. CBS wants credit for belatedly axing Imus after his vicious remark--but only if it doesn't cost any money to look holier-than-thou.

Nobody asked me, but…

Don't say I didn't warn you months ago. The Dow Jones Index has closed at record highs all week. But Big Six airline stocks are tanking. Most notable example: US Airways (LCC). It closed at $35.55 today, down from $61.96 in mid-January. Continental (CAL), United (UAUA) and American (AMR) are down sharply since mid-January, too. Keep it in mind before you invest in shares of the new Delta (DAL), which began trading on the New York Exchange today.

I know some of you think that I'm a little tough on airline bosses. Sometimes I think so myself. But then there's this little gem: Indonesian police have arrested the former chief of Garuda and charged him as an accessory to murder. Indra Setiawan, the former president-director of the airline, is implicated in the arsenic poisoning of a human-rights activist who was a passenger on a Garuda flight in 2004.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.