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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
July 19, 2007 -- Nobody asked me, but...

Have you noticed that we haven't seen the usual stories bemoaning the lack of frequent-flyer award seats this summer? I think it's proof that no one wants to fly this summer, even for free, if they can avoid it.

The airlines blaming an antiquated air-traffic control system for this year's massive delays is like sugar manufacturers blaming bag makers after they've stuffed six pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag.

Nobody asked me, but...

One more time: Kate Hanni's passenger's bill of rights just won't help. Consider its key demand, that airlines "establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate." Do you notice that it doesn't require an airline to actually let you off the plane once the aircraft returns to the gate? That it doesn't require an airline to offer alternate transportation if you do disembark? That it doesn't require an airline to retrieve your checked luggage? That it doesn't require an airline to refund your money if you choose not to fly after disembarking?

If we do pass some version of a passenger's bill of rights, then we're also going to need a Passenger's Supreme Court to police its imprecise, generic and loophole-laden clauses. And don't we all want to go through the grief of suing an airline every time it screws up?

Nobody asked me, but...

It's no surprise that we're confused by the nature of the terrorist threat facing us. Al-Qaeda has now adopted the inexplicable marketing practices of the Big Six. It code-shares with local insurgencies and slaps the al-Qaeda "brand" on every two-bit band of uzi-equipped jihadists in the Middle East. They might just as well call the franchised terrorist groups al-Qaeda Express.

My skin crawls when I hear some politician talk about protecting "the homeland." It sounds like the Nazis talking about "the fatherland" or the Stalinists defending "the motherland." This is America. Why can't the politicians just talk about protecting "America"? Are they ashamed of our name?

Nobody asked me, but...

Virgin America, which said today that it hopes to launch on August 8, is promising that you can order in-flight food from a touch screen at your seat. And that improves the process how?

Virgin America's Web site crashed shortly after ticket sales were launched today. Eight years to get this airline started and the Web site crashes on the first day? That sure gives me confidence that I'll get the turkey sandwich that I order off the touch screen.

Nobody asked me, but...

Here's the smartest thing that I've heard about the Big Six lately: "Airlines use communications to conform passenger thinking rather than inform passengers." No wonder the guy who told me that bailed on the carrier for which he worked.

Here's the funniest thing that I've heard about airlines lately: My friend's daughter and her new husband returned from China last year. His parents have just arrived in America for a visit after their first-ever airplane flight. New daughter-in-law cooks a meal and they respond, "This tastes almost as good as the food on the airplane!"

Nobody asked me, but...

Two months ago I wrote this: "The lead story in the business section of the Honolulu Advertiser explained that Hawaiian Airlines would be outsourcing hundreds of call-center jobs. 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."

Eight days ago, the Honolulu Advertiser wrote this: "After Hawaiian Airlines recently outsourced its reservation call center to the Philippines, some customers have had to wait 30 to 45 minutes before they can speak with a representative."

Nobody asked me, but...

The tragic TAM crash offers another warning against putting any credence in on-the-fly commentary offered in the minutes after the news networks go live. Looking at the first, murky bits of video on Tuesday evening, one TV talking head insisted that he could make out the landing gear of the plane. But he was actually looking at the cargo building across the road from the runway. A tattered banner on the structure that said "TAM Express" looked eerily like an aircraft fuselage in the bad light of the first video.

Bill O'Reilly is calling for a boycott of JetBlue Airways because it sponsors a convention of bloggers that offend O'Reilly's sensibilities. And Michelle Malkin, the woman who defended our interment of Japanese citizens in World War II, has leapt to Bill-O's defense. Seems to me that JetBlue can profit from this flap: I know that I'd pay more to fly an airline that guarantees I never have to sit next to Bill O'Reilly or Michelle Malkin.

Nobody asked me, but...

Has Southwest Airlines decided whether it is going to change its boarding procedures yet? Waiting for Southwest to offer assigned seats--or make a decision about offering assigned seats--is like waiting for the Cleveland Indians to finally win a World Series. I've got a life to live here...

I'm shocked--shocked!--to hear that the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures investigated the luggage scales at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and found that they were all inaccurate. One added two pounds to each bag weighed. Another wouldn't go to zero. Others registered weight even with nothing on them. The airlines' excuse? Overuse. Honest. That's what they said.

Nobody asked me, but...

White leather? The first-class seats on Virgin America will be covered in white leather? Why not just put white shag carpets in the aisle and make us take off our shoes when we board the aircraft?

Here's what a wag E-mailed me this morning about Virgin America's in-flight décor: White chairs in the front, black seats in the back. Paging Rosa Parks…

Nobody asked me, but...

So American Airlines has decided to drop flights from Dallas/Love Field to St. Louis after making a federal case of competing with Southwest Airlines wherever it expanded from the newly deregulated Love Field. Gee, no one saw that decision coming.

Speaking of the nitwits who run American these days, they have also decided to pull out of Stewart Airport in Newburgh. A spokeswoman says American is "not achieving an acceptable return" on its flights to Chicago/O'Hare. I wonder why. When I moved up near Newburgh 15 years ago, American flew real jets to O'Hare. Then it busted us down to Fokkers. Then cut us back to 37-seat regional jets. All while charging anywhere from three to five times as much as they charged from the New York City airports about 60 miles away. I stopped paying American's rapacious prices for the privilege of changing planes in O'Hare years ago. Now I drive to Newark and fly where I need to go nonstop on Continental Airlines. That's because I was "not achieving an acceptable return" by doing business with American.

Nobody asked me, but...

FlyGlobeSpan, which recently stranded a planeload of Ireland-bound passengers in New York for a week, says weak bookings are forcing it to drop New York-Liverpool flights. Talk about your instant karma…

The Italian government cancelled the auction of nearly moribund Alitalia this week after every one of the potential bidders pulled out of the insane process. I'm going to start monitoring Ebay.it now.

Nobody asked me, but...

I don't care what happens at the end of the last Harry Potter book. I didn't read the first six. Besides, I prefer my witches look like Elizabeth Montgomery.

I'll say it one more time: I swiped the "Nobody asked me, but..." column format from Jimmy Cannon, the great sportswriter. It's a crime against journalism that none of his books are in print.
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.