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NOTHING NEW, NOTHING PROFOUND
By Joe Brancatelli
June 21, 2007 -- I've been staring at a blank screen for a few hours trying to think of something profoundly new--or just new or just profound--about United Airlines' computer snafu yesterday.

And then I realized: There is nothing new or profound to say about the two-hour worldwide grounding that led United to a day of dreadful on-time performance, hundreds of delayed flights and tens of thousands of stranded and abandoned flyers.

Is it new or profound to say that United is so threadbare that it is running on spit and bailing wire and it has no redundant systems when a computer crashes? Been there, wrote that. I've written that about all of the Big Six.

Is it new or profound to say that United did nothing to inform its flyers that the two-hour shutdown would wreak havoc on the system throughout the day? Of course not. The Big Six always lie instead of telling distressed travelers the truth.

Is it new or profound to say that United refused to ease the burden on its system by urging customers to rebook for other days and waiving their change fees? Nope. The Big Six never care how flyers are treated and they never act to treat passengers like customers.

Is it new or profound to say that most of the general media slavishly lapped up United's "everything is getting back to normal" pablum yesterday and, a day later, is still publishing the airline's understated and distorted delay and cancellation figures? Nah, no one expects reporters to display any initiative anymore and type in something as simple as http://www.flightstats.com to get the raw, unbiased facts.

Is it new or profound to say that the idiots who actually invest in airline stocks ran up the price of United's shares (UAUA) yesterday and today? Nah, what does the market have to do with real life anymore.

Is it new or profound to say that United chief executive Glenn Tilton has been nowhere to be found over the last few days while his airline collapsed? Certainly not. CEOs these days are responsible for nothing but taking home gigantic paychecks and staying as far away from the notion of leadership as possible.

Is it even new or profound to say that the nation's second-largest airline did just 30 percent on-time yesterday, cancelled 5 percent of its flights and delayed more than half its schedule by 45 minutes or more and that it is going to seem like just another day by the end of this atrocious travel summer? Sadly, I've written that so many times in the last 60 days that even I'm bored of hearing it.

No, fellow travelers, there is nothing new or profound to say today. It's all been said.

If you were booked on United yesterday and got screwed, you have my sympathy. I hope you got home or to your appointment. I hope your checked bags have caught up with you.

If you are flying any of the other Big Six tomorrow, you have my sympathy, too. Yesterday it was United. Tomorrow it'll be US Airways again. Or American. Or Delta. Or Northwest. Or Continental. What's the difference?

But it's not even new or profound to say what I'm gonna say: You bring this on yourself. If you keep buying and flying the Big Six, this is going to keep happening to you. They are going to continue to take your money, treat you like trash and not even tell you the truth while you're waiting out a four-hour delay and trying to repair a busted connection.

If you keep flying the Big Six domestically, then you're a sheep and this is going to keep happening to you. You do have options. You can fly Southwest or JetBlue or AirTran or Midwest or Frontier or a slew of other guys. Most are better than the Big Six and charge far less money. And when they screw up, they at least apologize for it. JetBlue chairman David Neeleman is still apologizing for his airline's mistakes in February and his days-long disaster didn't inconvenience a fraction of the people who got hosed by United yesterday.

There are other options, too. You could drive to some trips or, heaven forfend, stay home. There are plenty of decent international carriers who can take you overseas.

It's not my job to tell you how to travel or to lead a boycott. You're an adult. You're smart. You know what this summer is going to be like. You knew long before yesterday's meltdown at United that the Big Six couldn't give a crap about you, your business, your comfort or your loyalty. You have to do what's right for you.

Do the right thing. Not because I say so. But because you know what the right thing to do is. If any other supplier treated you like the Big Six treat you, you'd have fired them years ago.

Don't play the victim. Don't whine that you have no choice. This is still a free country. This is still a capitalist country. Talk with your wallet.

That isn't a new or profound statement, either. But it's the truth. And the truth is always new and profound if you're willing to embrace it.
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.

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