E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2008 COLUMNS    ARCHIVES    SEARCH ARCHIVES
NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
November 20, 2008 -- Nobody asked me, but…

More than a decade ago, I wrote that airline alliances were beginning to look like Mafia families or World War I alliances. I was joking then, but what Lufthansa is doing sure does look like a World War I strategy. It has purchased Swiss International, gotten a green light to buy Austrian Airlines and is using a subsidiary to build a hub in northern Italy. It dominates Scandinavia via the Star Alliance tie-in with SAS. And it suddenly has a very big stake in Britain with its purchase of bmi, the second-largest player at London's Heathrow Airport.

Could you please, please, please stop flying Alitalia now? After two weeks of chaos, the airline is preemptively canceling 100 flights a day through the end of the month. That certainly supports the unions' contention that it was cost-cutting, not labor actions, that has caused the recent round of flight disruptions. Either way, the big-bang deal of December 1--when a private consortium cherry-picks Alitalia's assets and merges them with Air One--is sure to cause labor disruptions. Please, please, please stop flying Alitalia. There really are other ways to get to Italy.

Nobody asked me, but…

Qantas ran a quick-hit, two-for-one sale this week. While there were some genuine cost savings in coach, there were no bargains in the premium classes. On one route I checked, New York to Sydney, Qantas was asking $19,000+ for a business-class roundtrip in February. By contrast, United Airlines was charging around $8,500 roundtrip. It's fairly easy to run a two-for-one sale when you're charging more than twice as much as your closest competitor.

Of course, it must be said: United sucks compared to Qantas. In all three traditional classes. And Qantas' new premium economy product blows away Economy Plus, which used to be United's sole advantage. United makes it worse by falling behind its promise to get lie-flat business-class beds installed by 2009. If you surf to United's special Suite Dreams site, you'll see that the installation timeline is at least a year behind schedule. After more than a year of talk, just 16 of 91 international aircraft have been retrofitted.

Nobody asked me, but…

Now that Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has apparently lost his re-election bid, do you think it's time to rename Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage? Can you say Barracuda International?

Speaking of the never-ending 2008 election, here's a stat I bet you haven't heard: Ralph Nader got 698,000 votes. That's a hefty increase over the 411,000 votes he tallied in 2004. Of course, he polled 2.8 million votes in 2000. Either way, Ralph is pretty close to Harold Stassen territory here.

Nobody asked me, but…

On the stump, candidate Obama said he'd go through the budget line by line to kill worthless federal programs. President Obama would be well-advised to look at the line that says: Essential Air Service. This boondoggle, created to soften the blow of the 1978 airline deregulation on smaller airports, is still wasting millions by paying carriers to fly to cities that can't support flights in the free market. The latest extension of Essential Air Service is due to die on September 30. Let it die.

Oh, I'd also advise the President to check the budget to see if we're still funding the Pony Express.

Nobody asked me, but…

Russia's aviation system seems to be imploding. Earlier this month, government regulators shut down two carriers (KrasAir and Domodedovo). Another, Dalavia, folded. A half-dozen more are being merged into an existing state-owned company called Russian Technologies and will fly as Airlines of Russia. That also gives the power-obsessed Vladimir Putin what he has long sought: control of a huge chunk of the Russian skies.

The Big Three carmakers were having enough trouble convincing Congress to go along with a $25 billion package of bridge loans before it came out that the chief executives of Ford, GM and Chrysler arrived by private jets for yesterday's Congressional hearings. I know no one likes flying Northwest Airlines from its Detroit/Metro hub, but, really, its first class isn't that bad.

Nobody asked me, but…

I still say the original Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

On a flight the other day, I watched Recount, that great HBO movie about the 2000 presidential election. And as so often happens to me, the flight ended before the movie. Over the years, on-time arrivals have deprived me of the ending of flicks such as Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds. Now I'll never know how the Bush-Gore election turned out.

Nobody asked me, but…

Anybody out there remember T.H.E. Cat, that great one-season-wonder 1966 TV show starring Robert Loggia as an all-in-black cat burglar-acrobat-bodyguard-private eye? I recently had a chance to see the unaired pilot. It had a 31-minute running time, a Brazilian guest star (Norma Bengell) who sang two Jobim songs in the middle of the action and some amazingly literate dialog. The show was created by Harry Julian Fink, who later invented the Dirty Harry character for Clint Eastwood. Boy, they just don't make TV shows like they used to…

On the other hand, I do like Chuck, now in its second season on NBC. Funny concept, sharp writing and worth a diversion to the NBC site if you miss an episode. The idea of a slacker spy who gets it right once in a while because his nerdy tendencies pay dividends is kinda cute. And the supporting cast at the show's fictional electronics superstore--a burn-out arcade gamer, an under-achieving Indian-American, the rebellious daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and a hide-from-the-customers manager--is pitch perfect. Great show to spend an hour with in an airport bar.

Nobody asked me, but…

Oil's down to $54 a barrel. Just four more dollars and it'll finally hit the number that United Airlines' February, 2006, bankruptcy reorganization plan predicted it would average between 2006 and 2011. Wait, while I was writing, oil dropped to $49 a barrel. Man, how did they know? Those guys running United are brilliant. Just give them a couple of years of mulligans and the odd economic collapse or two and they nail it.

The market for all those planes that the Big Six are grounding is basically nonexistent. But among the dross (American's MD-80s, for example) is a surprising number of decent, reliable, relatively fuel-efficient mid-generation Boeing 737s. Even in these bad times, I can see someone leasing a few and starting a new airline…

Nobody asked me, but…

The latest offer I saw for a frequent flyer program credit card came with 40,000 bonus miles. Who says the credit markets are frozen? If you're Chase or American Express and you have pre-purchased all of those nearly worthless miles to help keep your airline partner afloat, you've got no choice but to keep lending.

With airline traffic plummeting and airports emptying out, how'd you like to be Steve Brill at Clear? The Transportation Security Administration doesn't permit him to offer any meaningful security bypass, so he's left promoting membership in a line-cut program. And, oops, the lines have disappeared. Brill's reaction? He raised his prices. Yeah, that'll work…
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.