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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
May 15, 2008 -- Nobody asked me, butů

Whenever an airline changes slogans, I wait for the other shoe to drop. A few days ago, JetBlue Airways unleashed its "Happy Jetting" campaign, a queasy echo of the old Esso "Happy Motoring" catchphrase. Yesterday the footwear fell. With no public announcement and no advance notice, JetBlue increased its change fee by 150 percent, to $100 from $40.

JetBlue still offers value for money, but you have to wonder about the big mistakes it has made in recent years. The ill-planned, helter-skelter expansion. The failure to aggressively hedge fuel or raise working capital while it was still the darling of the financial markets. The idiotic decision to add a second fleet type, made worse by being the launch customer for a plane, the Embraer 190, that isn't living up to its promise. Not to mention consumer-repulsive moves like 150 percent fee increases. It's all so not Happy Jetting.

Nobody asked me, butů

United Airlines is falling apart even faster than skeptics like me could have imagined. Its $500+ million first-quarter loss was more than any other two Big Six carriers combined. Last week it had to pay a big premium to renegotiate loan covenants so it wouldn't default. Its p.s. transcontinental operation is moribund and customers are bitching about the in-flight cutbacks on the supposedly premium service. It is so creatively bankrupt that it can't figure out how to profitably launch a new route to China. And it is in such disarray that Continental Airlines chief executive Larry Kellner walked away from a United merger even though he would have become top dog at the combined carrier.

Which brings us to the poster boys for the Peter Principle, US Airways chief executive Doug Parker and president Scott Kirby. United chief Glenn Tilton is so desperate to activate the change-of-control clause in his contract and get his payout that he may do a US Airways deal and give United over to Parker and Kirby. Memo to Glenn: I know you don't like to hear bad news, work hard or hear about the past, but United and US Airways tried this once before. Honest! Ask one of your minions to check it out.

Nobody asked me, butů

Delta and Northwest keep saying that they don't plan to close a hub or cut service if they get their merger approved. If Delta boss Richard Anderson and his Northwest counterpart, Doug (Pay Me Off) Steenland, honestly believe that, well, then, they are even less competent than Glenn Tilton. But, of course, they don't believe that. Nobody--and I mean nobody--would keep hubs open in Detroit, Memphis, Cincinnati and Atlanta. Do the geography.

Cincinnati is probably toast as a hub even if Delta doesn't merge. The airline says it plans to dump as many as 70 regional jets (RJs) from the system by the end of the year. More than 70 percent of Delta's flights at Cincinnati are RJs. Do the math.

Nobody asked me, butů

Blackberry this week officially introduced the bPhone--uh, I mean the Blackberry Bold--to better compete with the iPhone. Apple recently licensed some Microsoft technology so that the iPhone could work with corporate E-mail systems. I think this is gonna be a fabulous battle for control of the mobile market, the next great computing platform for us business travelers.

When I got back from a month overseas on February 15, my car-service driver pointed out the price of gas ($3.19) at the service station in my little town. I walked by this morning and the price was $3.99 a gallon. Eighty cents in 90 days.

Nobody asked me, butů

I think John King of CNN does a fine job with his election map. But when he sweeps his hand across huge swatches of sparsely populated light blue counties where Hillary Clinton won and tiny specks of heavily populated dark blue counties where Barack Obama won, he misses the point. Land doesn't vote. People vote.

Speaking of politics, don't you think it's time for us to ditch the Electoral College? I don't want my politics to be a red state-blue state thing. It's probably a mistake to go to direct popular election. If we did, candidates would spend all their time and money on satellite media tours and they would never get in front of actual voters. But maybe we should go to a proportional electoral-vote system. Then the candidates of both parties would pursue a 50-state strategy.

Nobody asked me, butů

Man, that Chris Paul can play. I mean, I know no one is watching the NBA playoffs, but he's worth the price of listening to Charles Barkley during the throws to the TNT studio shows.

Speaking of bloviators, how's that "permanent Republican majority" of Bush strategist-turned-Fox News analyst Karl Rove doing? When Republicans lose Mississippi 01, as they did on Tuesday night, I think we can conclude that Rove doesn't know what he's talking about. Kinda like Charles Barkley talking about winning with defense.

Nobody asked me, butů

Why are people complaining because Delta Air Lines has stopped giving out ticket jackets? Why do we need ticket jackets anymore? And isn't this the kind of cut we should encourage airlines to make if it saves them a few bucks?

Speaking of which, IATA, the international-airline cartel, says paper tickets will essentially be history by June 1. I'm still looking for that ticket to Fargo I lost in 1983ů

Nobody asked me, butů

Over and over in that YouTube video, Rev. Jeremiah Wright says the United States brought 9/11 on itself. Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell said the same thing right after 9/11. (You can find that clip on YouTube, too.) I think the conclusion is clear: We gotta stop taking the religious loonies seriously--and we must keep them out of politics. I'm with Jesus on this one: Render to Caesarů

The government this week dropped all charges against the supposed 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani. This after holding him in Guantanamo since December, 2001, interrogating him for 20 hours a day and subjecting him to treatment that even the Pentagon says was "abusive and degrading." But he's still in custody because the government says it might want to indict and try him for something else later. Just thought you'd like to know.

Nobody asked me, butů

Southwest Airlines raised $600 million last week by mortgaging some planes. But Southwest already has more than $3 billion in cash and short-term securities on hand. Translation: Southwest is about to make an acquisition or launch something interesting.

Airlines simultaneously keep raising fares and discounting like crazy. But lots of luck finding a hotel deal. You can't even find those phony chain-wide summer promotion announcements.

Nobody asked me, butů

The best book I've re-read on a flight lately was A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. He shows how the flawed peace after World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire is at the root of many of the problems in today's Middle East.

See if you can catch up with PBS' American Experience show on George H.W. Bush's presidency. It has a clip of his closest advisor, James Baker, discussing the first Gulf War. "Some people said, 'Why didn't you guys take care of Saddam when you had a chance? Why didn't you go to Baghdad?' " he recalls. "Nobody asks me that question anymore."

Nobody asked me, butů

I've looked at all of the pictures on RushLimbaugh.com. And he isn't wearing a flag pin in any of them. I knew he was a commie...

I think I've figured it out now. Every time Bill Clinton wags his finger into the camera, he's lying.

Nobody asked me, butů

How about an Obama-Huckabee ticket? It's got just about everything: left-right, black-white, north-south, Democrat-Republican. An idea guy from the Senate and a manager from state government. And the two most interesting and energizing politicians to come along in years.

I'll say it over and over for as long as I write columns like this. It's insane that there are no books in print by Jimmy Cannon, the brilliant mid-century sportswriter who invented the Nobody asked me, butů format. It's sad that people who don't know his work only get snippets of his brilliance.
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 ę 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright ę 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.