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OF MICE AND MISSILES
By Joe Brancatelli
January 10, 2008 -- As you probably figured out lo these many years, I'm no Steinbeck. And freely I admit to ducking any college course that would have required me to read Robert Burns.

But I know a snappy headline when I write it. And I have been a business traveler long enough to know that when life on the road gives you mice and missiles, you make a Brancatelli File.

So, let me switch to a Rod Serling reference and say, submitted for your approval:

I'D CHECK THE TOOTHPASTE IN UNITED'S AMENITY KITS, TOO…
Pounded by criticism for its tainted food, drugs, toys and toothpaste, China has been looking for a way to get its own back on the United States. And leave it to the Tiltonistas at United Airlines to hand the Chinese government one heck of an issue.

The official state news agency, Xinhua, reports that Chinese inspectors found eight mice, some dead and some alive, on a United Airlines flight that arrived on Sunday in Beijing. The infestation had been reported to local quarantine authorities when the flight arrived from United's Washington/Dulles hub. According to Xinhua, an "emergency team" rushed to the Boeing 777 and "put rat poison and mouse traps at every possible corner on the aircraft, including the cockpit." The Chinese news agency adds that "eight mice…were found at last…hidden in pillows."

THERE'S A LOVELY WINDOW SEAT NEXT TO MR. PICKENS AVAILABLE…
American Airlines says that it isn't in favor of placing anti-missile systems on its commercial jets, but it has nevertheless agreed to a test program spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security. As many as three American Boeing 767s will be equipped this spring with anti-missile gear developed by BAE Systems.

American, BAE and Homeland Security have been working on the anti-missile program for several years. About a year ago, for example, American showed off a jet with laser-jamming equipment mounted on the belly. American, BAE and Homeland Security all insist that there will be no test firing of anti-missiles, either simulated or otherwise. But as my friend Fred Abatemarco, the former editor of Popular Science magazine, reminded me this week: "You know how you test an anti-missile system, don't you? You fire missiles at it."

THE ROAD RUNNER SAID THAT IT WOULD HAVE NO COMMENT…
Very little should surprise you when you match US Airways, the nation's worst major airline, with Mesa, the nation's worst commuter carrier. But this would have to qualify: A Mesa Airlines aircraft operating as US Airways Express hit and killed a coyote as the plane landed at the airport in Medford, Oregon. The flight from Las Vegas was arriving at about 2 a.m. on Monday when it struck the animal.

"We have wildlife issues all the time," admitted airport director Ben Case. "But this is the first time I've ever heard of a coyote strike." The airport is fenced against wildlife, but Case believes that the coyote got onto the grounds by swimming a creek that crosses the fence.

AND YOU THOUGHT YOUR LAST FLIGHT RAN LATE…
This is what I wrote in the Tactical Traveler for May 19, 1999: "The contract is a thousand pages and it was consummated only after months of grueling negotiations, but Berlin finally has a deal to build a new airport. Called Berlin Brandenburg International, the new facility will be located in Schönefeld, home of the former East Berlin airport. If all goes according to plan, Templehof, Berlin's downtown airport, will close in 2002 and Tegel, Berlin's primary airport, will shut down in 2007, the year that Brandenburg becomes fully operational."

Yeah, well, the best-laid plans of mice, men and Berliners…

It turns out that neither Tempelhof nor Tegel have ever closed. And Brandenburg never opened. An impossibly complicated series of lawsuits delayed matters for years. At the moment, Tempelhof is due to close on October 31. And Tegel will remain open at least until Berlin Brandenburg International, opens. That's currently scheduled for 2011.

ONE MORE ENDORSEMENT LIKE THIS AND OBAMA IS DONE…
Looking for a reason why Barack Obama went from a double-digit lead over the weekend to a narrow loss to Hilary Clinton in Tuesday's New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary? Here's one possible explanation: On Monday, he received the unsolicited endorsement of the Air Travelers Association.

Never heard of the Air Travelers Association? Incensed that some group claiming to represent you made a Presidential endorsement? I don't know whether to share your anger or just laugh at the arrogance of David Stempler, the pompous self-promoter who runs the nonexistent organization.

Stempler, who has had a few minor airline jobs over the year, created the Air Travelers Association and initially used it to pimp his airline safety report cards. Then it was a front to sell useless crap for a now-defunct travel conglomerate. Lately, he claims to be a consumer advocate, but, as far as anyone knows, there are no members of the Air Travelers Association and most of his positions are overtly anti-passenger. In truth, however, Stempler is the sound of one hand clapping and a stream of press releases in search of media exposure.

As for the Obama endorsement, Stempler's statement is full of nonsense that has nothing to do with the Illinois senator, the candidate's positions on air travel or anything to do with anything that will benefit passengers.
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 © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.