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 The Brancatelli File for 2007

joe December 27: HAPPY HOLIDAYS ... IF YOU'RE NOT FLYING
A quiet week between the holidays? Hardly. Maxjet folds. Another holiday meltdown at United Airlines. The Transportation Department sneaks in an indecipherable new rule on batteries and luggage. And who knows what more...

December 20: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, IN A FEW EASY CHUNKS
Allow me to sum up most of the year in a few easy chunks. Here's the business-travel flop of the year; my nominee for worst airline of the year; the worst frequent flyer program change of the year; the worst publicity stunt of the year; and the most irrelevant airline start-up of the year. The good news? The year is over (we hope).

December 13: YOU AIN'T SEE NOTHIN' YET
Assuming you weren't slogging your way through the ice and the snow that made life a nightmare this week, you may have heard he big news: Lufthansa is paying $300 million for a 19 percent stake in JetBlue. The mind boggles. "Boggles" being a journalism term that means, "I didn't want to get into all of this just 12 days before Christmas." Still, take it from me: This Lufthansa-JetBlue thing is going to be small potatoes when European and American carriers finish realigning themselves during the next year or two.

December 6: THE COLOR OR THE SKY AT THE DOT
If you listen to the bleatings from the Department of Transportation (DOT), Secretary Mary Peters and the agency have solved the problem of chronically delayed flights. But I stuck pins at random into the DOT's own list of chronically delayed flights and, surprise! The "fix" involved typical bureaucratic and airline legerdemain, not any real improvements in how (and how late) we fly.

December 2: AND IT ISN'T EVEN WINTER YET...
The first winter storm of the season--and it isn't even winter yet--scrambles travel around the country. Here's how to cope.

November 29: LEFTOVERS
I spent Thanksgiving Day weekend posting a cornucopia of columns from those happy and carefree days before 9/11. As I added these several hundred columns to the JoeSentMe archives, I came across a slew of interesting items that are worth revisiting. Like: Whatever happened to the McDonald's hotel chain? How has deregulation played in Peoria? Plus: a good place to change planes in Europe; the wacky world of Berlin airports; and the truth about in-flight food.

November 15: WHEN TURKEYS FLY
It's turkey season and that leads seamlessly into the latest news about the airlines. President Bush says nothing about airline delays and claims it is something. Delta's chief executive says the airline's business plan depends on you being delayed. A heaping helping of BS from Southwest. Skybus won't give out its phone numbers, so a journalist publishes them. Mesa loses a lawsuit--and sues a journalist. And the return of merger mania.

November 8: 'TIS THE SEASON TO SAVE ON BUSINESS CLASS TO EUROPE
United Airlines is the latest carrier to slash its Christmas/New Year's prices in business class to Europe. So I've completely updated the column I previewed last weekend. I go carrier-by-carrier searching out the best holiday deals and the sticky restrictions. Nothing like Europe in business class for less than $1,000 roundtrip!

November 1: GROSSE POINT BRANCATELLI
I take a look at the news of the week and I shake my head. It's just crazy out there and I'm metaphysical toast. So I'm off to raid what's left of the candy in the trick-or-treat bowl. Read on at your own risk about Singapore Air's stiff-necked policy on its double beds; a saucy viral video from Silverjet; the Savoy's goodbye auction; the TSA's method of selling our "contraband" back to us; how a British minister got rousted at security; my plans to play Willie Wonka on Skybus; and more.

October 18: THE END OF FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS AS WE KNOW THEM
Without drawing any kind of moral equivalency, let's just say that December 1, 2007, is a date that will live in business-travel infamy. That's when one of the Big Six will complete a sneak attack that will destroy the frequent flyer programs as we have known them. If you've got big balances in your frequency plans, you need to know how those miles are going to be made worthless.

October 4: THE INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS-CLASS FARE BAZAAR
As international carriers inflate the walk-up price of business-class seats, they are simultaneously discounting 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 business-class fare bazaar.

September 27: WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
This marks the beginning of the seventh year of JoeSentMe. And I'm sure it's just coincidence that this week has also been a whirlwind of Congressional hearings, government reports and even Presidential pronouncements, all targeted at trying to understand exactly why the nation's air-travel system is so near operational collapse.

September 20: SUMMER'S FINALLY OVER. NOW FOR THE AUTUMN CRISES.
I'm a cockeyed optimist, so I'll embrace the end of this miserable summer as a chance to turn the metaphoric page and look ahead to the autumn's business-travel crises. And we have some doozies: Airlines are running out of regional-jet pilots because the pay is so poor; the FAA is running out of air traffic controllers because they're retiring to protest the agency's unilaterally imposed rules changes; we're facing serious new airport-security problems; and airlines are gearing up to charge us for the right to use our credit card.

September 13: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
Some snarky thoughts and sophisticated analysis about provocative airline attire; rendering to security screeners the things that are Caesar's; the Led Wheelchair, uh, Zeppelin reunion; astonishing transatlantic decisions from US Airways and Delta; runaway hotel prices; Giuliani's terrorism credentials; a startlingly honest statement from an FAA functionary and typical Big Six reactions; and much, much more.

September 6: STILL HERE? IT GETS WORSE.
So most of us have survived the bulk of the summer of our discontent. We're a little, perhaps a lot, worse for the wear, but we are still here. What's the reward for surviving? More craziness, of course. So read all about American urging people to do what they say, not what they do; Northwest saying "never mind" to a challenge it laid down; the end of flights to Iraq; the return of the airline axis of excess; Virgin America loses its virginity; the TSA strikes again; and some really good news from Orbitz.

September 1: THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT
I date the "summer" of our discontent back to December, 2006, when American Airlines stranded dozens of flights and hundreds of passengers at airports around Texas. It spawned the nascent "passenger's rights" movement and began the 2007 narrative of endless horror. I arbitrarily completed the chronicle on August 30, with the peculiar tale of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his "wide stance" arrest at Minneapolis Airport. It seemed a fitting way to end things.

August 30: HOW THE IN-FLIGHT COOKIE CRUMBLES
You have been filling my E-mail box in recent weeks with what is literally a tiny complaint: United Airlines has reduced the size of its in-flight packets of biscuits. Picayune as the complaint is, it is indicative of how far and how fast the Big Six have fallen. Once upon a time we argued over the relative merits of their in-flight menus. Now we fight over crumbs.

August 23: IN THE TANK ACROSS THE POND AT US AIRWAYS
When the notoriously shifty bosses at US Airways started offering 20 percent off the price of its international business-class flights, I started poking around. Even your ever-skeptical columnist was shocked at what I found: a near-collapse of the day-to-day operations of US Airways' Philadelphia-based transatlantic service. Even by this summer's reduced standards, the operation that US Airways is running is shockingly bad.

August 9: THE NUANCE IN THE NUMBERS
The DOT released its report on June airport travel this week and the numbers are as bad as they've been in more than a decade. But there are nuances. We've got details and the bad and the ugly (sorry, no good); the conundrum at Kennedy; the divergence in Dallas; the hub of least resistance; the state of luggage handling; the month's worst flights; and much, much more.

July 26: GET IT STRAIGHT: THERE IS NO RULE 240
Can we get just one thing straight? Rule 240 is an urban legend. And far too many otherwise savvy business travelers do not understand that the long-gone passenger-protection system no longer fits into the screw-the-customer style of today's airline management. Here's how to really protect yourself, complete with links to the contracts of carriage of all of the major U.S. airlines.

July 19: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
Lots of news to report this week, including thoughts about a passenger's bill of rights; "code-sharing" by al-Qaeda; how the airlines communicate; the high cost of outsourcing airline jobs; Bill O'Reilly's JetBlue boycott; American Airlines bailing from markets; and much, much more. I throw in the snarky comments for free.

July 12: RE-REGULATE THE AIRLINES? I DON'T THINK SO...
We're three weeks into the summer and my E-mail is running 50-50. Half of you want to vent about your hideous summer travel experiences. And half of you are looking to re-regulate the airlines and turn our business-travel lives over to the whims of a governmental agency. Vent away but, please, can we dispense with the talk about re-regulation? It's no solution.

June 28: WHY THE BIG SIX ALWAYS DO THE WRONG THING
Every communications pro on the planet says that when things go bad, get the facts out fast, apologize immediately and make your customers happy. But if this summer proves anything, it's that the Big Six choose to lie, deny and distort when things go south. Why don't they even learn the lesson of Crisis Communications 101?

June 25: NORTHWEST'S CRISIS OF CANCELLATIONS
Northwest Airlines management slashes its pool of pilots, then runs short at the start of the summer. The cancellations mount up and so do Northwest's lies and arrogance.

June 21: NOTHING NEW, NOTHING PROFOUND
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. And this isn't new or profound, either: It's our fault. If we buy and we fly, the Big Six will never change. We've got to find another way to go.

June 20: A DREADFUL DAY FOR UNITED FLYERS
With almost all of United Airlines' daily schedule complete, the full picture of the carrier's computer-created meltdown is now clear. United managed to operate just 32 percent of its flights on-time today.

June 14: SURVIVING TO TRAVEL ANOTHER DAY
The fact that this will be a miserable summer on the road is no longer in doubt. The only thing now is to make sure that we can survive to travel another day. I've got some tips to help you manage your luggage better, cut your hotel costs, avoid denied boarding and more.

June 9: HOW BAD WAS IT YESTERDAY? DON'T ASK.
The dimensions of yesterday's air-traffic computer meltdown are just becoming clear. June 8 goes down as the worst travel day of the summer so far--and the summer hasn't even started again.

June 7: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
Complete with some snarky comments, I've got news and insight into the "plot" to blow up JFK; Delta's secret change on an international route; Skybus pioneering two new American airports; the Pope without passport; the high cost of Hampton Inn; new travel websites; innovative new train service; and much more.

May 31: THE CURSE OF THE REGIONAL JETS
There are a bazillion contributing causes to the inevitable meltdown we will face at the big airports this summer. But more than anything, the reason why we're gonna run late all summer is that the Big Six are stuffing the nation's airports and blackening the nation's skies with tinny, tiny regional jet. Wave after wave of flights is running late and a huge percentage of them are RJs that carry just a fraction of the nation's traffic.

May 24: PAGING DR. FREUD. DR. FREUD TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE.
If you sometimes think that you need a shrink to understand life on the road, who am I to argue? And I have some thoughts about how the airlines could get themselves reregulated and how they are turning themselves into Pan Am. Also, the return of the axis of excess at Northwest and some thoughts about Virgin America being forced to off its CEO to get in the air.

May 17: YOU BUY AND YOU FLY? THEN YOU'RE HAPPY.
For the airlines, it's a very simple equation: If you buy and you fly in the face of skyrocketing fares and plummeting service, then you're happy. So while they are raising fares and cutting service, you keep flying. Can you blame them for thinking they are doing just fine and the folks who are complaining about the state of airline service can be safely ignored?

May 10: HOW LOW CAN THE AIRLINES GO?
The worst day of the month for business travelers is when the DOT releases its monthly statistics for the nation's 20 largest carriers. Monday was D-Day and the figures were, well, D for Dreadful. It makes you wonder how low the airlines can go--and how much business travelers will put up with before they start staying in the office because it no longer makes good business sense to fly. Here is detailed analysis of what we've learned--and one airline's decision to address its problems with free pie.

May 3: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
You say you love this format, so here are my latest snappy retorts on the fare-finders and award calendars now featured on airline Web sites; Imus and Eddie Izzard; the good and the bad of airline clubs; a prediction about another new airline fee; the insanity and nastiness at the security checkpoints; the airline executive arrested as an accessory to murder; and lots, lots more.

April 26: WANT A HEADLINE HERE? THAT'S $5 MORE.
I'm halfway through a two-week, six-flight, four-hotel, five-city, almost-all-business trip. You want brilliant insight and sharp analysis in the middle of this? OK, but it's gonna cost you more. And I might not deliver even after I hit you with the surcharge. Needless to say, adding surcharges and not delivering is a trick I've picked up on the first week of this trip.

April 19: A HARD LESSON ABOUT CHECKED BAGS
The hardest lessons to learn are the ones that we all already know, the ones that we discard because time or expedience or simple exhaustion convinced us to ignore. So, once again, fellow travelers, it's time to learn the lesson: Never, ever check a bag. Here's why--and how to pack to make sure you don't have to check one.

April 12: THE NEXT SEASON OF OUR DISCONTENT
Shakespeare never did tell us what came after the winter of our discontent. But why do I think that the winter of our discontent on the road is going to be followed by a summer of disgust? Here's what coming: chaos at the airport; a new paradigm in airline pricing; looming safety issues; and simmering labor disputes. Run for cover, fellow travelers, it's gonna be a tough summer.

March 29: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
It's a big week for news and I've got details (and snarky comments) about hotel advertising and hotel sales; the return of big payouts for airline executives; the anti-US Airways websites; the strange state of airline labor; a foolproof Fahrenheit-to-Celsius trick; demeaning airport security; Delta's crazed commuter service; and passing observations on Sondheim, worthy music, the Final Four, TV news on the Net; and lots, lots more.

March 22: PLANE PORN
I went on this week's heavily publicized Airbus A380 flight from Frankfurt to New York/Kennedy in search of answers to practical business-travel questions. I didn't get many and, normally, I would have filed my notes away and devoted this week's column to the more pressing matters at hand on the road. But people, even folks who I thought would know better or could care less, are titillated and excited by this leviathan. So here's what you need to know about a plane you may never see.

March 15: BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…
Ever since the soothsayer urged Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March, this time of 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 forget the ides. Let's have jokes instead. Heard about JetBlue apologizing for everything blue? Or US Airways' plan to merge with defunct Eastern Airlines? Or Crash&Burn, the new chain of branded, boutique flophouses? I have these news items and many more exclusive business travel scoops...because I made them all up. They only sound real.

March 8: WHAT WILL LOYAL US AIRWAYS FLYERS DO NOW?
Loyal beyond reason to a carrier that has never treated them well, US Airways flyers have suffered a string of indignities since America West executives took over after the merger. Then came this week's meltdown, which exposed those executives as incompetent, arrogant, self-deluded and dishonest. But the issue is simpler: Will US Airways flyers, especially the high-yield, super-elite customers that make an airline profitable, revolt?

March 1: FORGET PASSENGER'S RIGHTS. JUST SURVIVE.
One more time, fellow travelers: Congress won't pass a passenger's bill or rights and, even if it does, it won't be anything that will actually help us. If you want to survive on the road, you are on your own. You are going to have to protect yourself. Arm yourself with the proper information and smart strategies and tactics. And use some of the tips I've compiled. They've worked for me in the past and they'll work for you now.

February 22: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
This week some pithy insights about the US Airways merger; the only apology that JetBlue hasn't made; the lack of any remorse from American, Delta and United; car-rental madness; Hilton (hotels, Paris and Nicky); interesting developments in Honolulu; the Passenger's Supreme Court; why the late President Ford may be to blame for passengers being held hostage; and Judge Larry, who reminded us from the bench that "This is life. We all come with broken suitcases."

February 15: HOW TO MAKE BUSINESS TRAVEL BETTER
The nation is shocked--shocked!--to hear that airlines are holding passengers hostage on aircraft during storms. But business travelers know those kinds of atrocities happen every day on the road. A passenger's bill of rights is not the answer. But if we really want to get our lawmakers involved in the process, how about we convince them to require airlines fix the stupid fare structure, get rid of the miserable seats and stop their phony schedules. Then Congress should rein in the TSA. Those truly simple steps would make business travel better.

February 8: TEN COMMANDMENTS OF TRAVEL BUYING (2007 EDITION)
My Ten Commandments of Travel Buying aren't written in stone because they must be reconsidered, rewritten and road-tested on a regular basis. But here's my current best thinking and keep two things in mind: travel today has no real financial value and the travel industry has specifically targeted business travelers to pay the most for what little we receive.

February 1: TWELVE TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE COMPLAINING
Readers ask me all the time if complaint letters to airlines or hotels or car-rental firms are actually worth the effort. My answer is always an unequivocal "Yes!" The travel industry has adopted a squeaky-wheel strategy: They know almost everyone is getting a raw deal, so they save their apologies and compensation offers for the small percentage of travelers who take the time to write and complain. Here's how to do it and get results.

January 25: LIES, DAMNED LIES, STATISTICS AND POLITICIANS
You know that when we have lies, damned lies, statistics and politicians it has been a very bad week on the road. So, without further ado… US Airways lies about its "walk-up" fares; the Big Six' damned lies about their frequent flyer miles; the stats behind Fort Lauderdale as a hub and the rapid erosion of the legacy carrier's market share; and some politicians in Washington start talking about re-regulation. It all happened this week.

January 18: BUSINESS-TRAVEL PHANTOMS AND FANTASIES
Life on the road has made skeptics and cynics of us all. Too many years of phony upgrades, broken service promises and flat-out lies have given us precious little patience for the phantoms and fantasies of business travel. So what, then, are we to make of Virgin America and Registered Traveler, two ideas whose time has apparently come and gone without ever having actually arrived? Both briefly stumbled into view this week and were quickly exposed for the fantasies they really are.

January 11: MERGER MADNESS EXPLAINED
We're not even finished with the week and we're already drowning in merger-related nonsense from the airlines. As usual, however, most of the analyses are trash, filled with hype, hot air, hysteria, wishful thinking and, sometimes, total ignorance of the reality of air travel. So what I propose to do today is this: Answer all the logical questions you may have about this stuff as simply and honestly as I can and then ignore the merger madness until something actually happens. I think the following eleven questions-and-answers pretty much cover it.

January 4: PAST IS PROLOGUE FOR THIS YEAR ON THE ROAD
Now that you're back on the road, I already have bad news for you: Things got worse while you were gone. Worst of all, the icky stuff that happened while you were celebrating the holidays may presage a dark and dangerous life on the road in 2007. Who needs the negative vibes this early in the year? Hey, I'm with ya. But facts are facts and the last two weeks have reminded us that travelers are terrorist targets; the airlines are messing with our luggage; not all fare wars are what they seem; carriers continue to strand us on runways without regard for our health or comfort; and much more.

These columns originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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