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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
June 12, 2008 -- Nobody asked me, but…

Airlines may be cutting back everywhere, but not Chicago/O'Hare. With two Big Six hubs there and takeoff and landing slots hard to come by, no airline is willing to sacrifice their grandfathered position.

Never, ever be surprised by the chutzpah of the Big Six. They're deferring the launch of new international routes secured from the Department of Transportation (DOT), but they don't want anyone else to fly them, either. The Big Six and Alaska Airlines last week asked the DOT for a blanket "dormancy waiver" that would allow them not to fly any route--and also bar a competitor from requesting the unused rights.

Nobody asked me, but…

It's terrific that Qantas is using a mellow, orchestral arrangement of Men at Work's Down Under as the music bed for a new TV spot. Makes me want to listen to the original again. Business as Usual was one amazing album--and it makes me chunder to realize that it's 25 years ago.

Speaking of travel commercials, you have to laugh at those new Holiday Inn spots about a school for business travelers. Can't place the crusty "teacher"? It's Philip Baker Hall, the unforgettable "library cop" from Seinfeld.

Nobody asked me, but…

May I suggest you indefinitely suspend any long-term flight buying? Fares six months or a year out are insane just now because they reflect all of the price increases and fuel surcharges that the airlines have imposed lately. There will be better fares later in the year. That's assuming the route you want to lock in will still be flown next year, of course. And if it's not, you don't need to buy a ticket now, do you?

Want to know why rates at the big chain hotels are so high? Listen to what one hotel owner tells me he pays for his brand affiliation: a 5.5 percent franchise fee; 5 percent of the folio to fund the frequent guest program; and 2 percent for other franchise assessments. In other words, more than 12 percent of what you pay for a room night gets upstreamed right to the chain before the hotel owner or operator sees a penny.

Nobody asked me, but…

Bob Crandall, the combative former chief executive of American Airlines (he retired a decade ago), is back, giving speeches and writing op-ed pieces. Professor Crando's prescription to save the airlines: a form of regulation that would cripple the industry's already prostrate labor unions and guarantee that airlines couldn't compete on low fares. But there are some good ideas: schedules limited to airport and air-space capacity and a ban on using bankruptcy to disadvantage the airlines that choose not to seek Chapter 11 protection.

And then, of course, there's Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi demagogued his way back into office using the Italian version of a flag lapel pin: He claimed that selling the country's 49 percent stake in Alitalia to Air France would be an insult to Italy's national honor. But now that Silvio is responsible for figuring out how to "save" Alitalia, he says a deal with Air France would be a "good solution." Air France, not surprisingly, has told him to stuff it.

Nobody asked me, but…

I remember parking my 1971 Dodge Challenger (with the 4-barrel carburetor and 442 horsepower engine) when premium gasoline reached the then-unthinkable 47-cents-a-gallon level in 1973. I filled up my tinny, tiny, 4-cylinder 1999 Ford Escort yesterday with $4.39-a-gallon regular unleaded.

I'm tired of hearing that the French get 80 percent of their energy from nuclear power. What does it prove? That they are insufferably smug and radioactive?

Nobody asked me, but…

Amtrak apologists are once again clambering for additional subsidies for our supposed "national rail system." Anyone cancel a transcon business flight lately to take a train from coast-to-coast? Anyone want to? C'mon, raise your hands…

I love trains as a means of mass transit and I'm all for a major national commitment to intelligent, practical regional rail initiatives and inter-modal solutions. Which is why it's infuriating that the Union Pacific is trying to block the construction of tracks for a bullet-train link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The railroad won't share its right-of-way because it claims that putting fast passenger trains near slow freight trains would cause accidents.

Nobody asked me, but…

It's great that CNN has launched a new Sunday talk show about international affairs called Fareed Zakaria GPS. Too bad CNN doesn't cover international news anymore. And, really, the best CNN could do for a special guest the second week was Henry Kissinger? I mean, he's about as relevant today as Alfred von Tirpitz. (Hey, Google him…)

Now that we have the candidates lined up for President, how about a politics holiday until Labor Day? Tell Barr, McCain and Obama to take a holiday, rest up, work up their manifestos and get back with us in September. Meanwhile, we can all play with the interactive electoral map at 270toWin.com. But I admit I haven't come up with a combination of states that could guarantee a win for Bob Barr.

Nobody asked me, but…

I find it weird that US Airways chose today to announce it would charge coach passengers $2 for coffee, soft drinks or water. I mean, its stock closed at an all-time low of $2.69 today. You'd think US Airways would try to avoid comparing the value of its shares, which were selling north of $60 just 18 months ago, to a 12-ounce can of cola.

Remember I wrote a couple of weeks ago that airline corporate cultures never change regardless of the bobblehead dolls at the top? Today we have proof that US Airways' unbreakable culture--go out of your way to alienate your best customers--lives on. Its decision to launch a $25-$50 charge to claim a frequent flyer award and end bonus miles for elite members is eerily familiar to the suicidal moves US Airways tried six years ago. Different management, same piss-on-your-most-loyal-flyers attitude.

Nobody asked me, but…

Anyone you know going to Beijing for the Olympics?

Just when you thought it was safe to listen to anything that Pat Buchanan had to say, his new book makes the insane suggestion that World War II was avoidable if only England hadn't guaranteed Poland's borders. I'm okay with Churchill revisionism--and I even buy John Charmley's criticism that Churchill was largely a failure because he went to war to save Poland and, in the end, lost Poland and the Empire. But if we know anything about Hitler, it's that he wanted war, lusted after it and would have found a pretext to start one. As for Buchanan's book, there's always Molly Ivins' critique of his 1992 speech at a political convention: "It must have read better in the original German."

Nobody asked me, but…

Surf to Derrie-Air, a wonderful spoof. It dropped last Friday, complete with teaser newspaper ads, as a way to promote the promotional value of newspapers. Of course, don't think some Big Six executive isn't taking notes.

And if you've got 10 minutes, watch some airline "history" here. Now, of course, Southwest gets to run ads making fun of the Big Six.
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.