The Brancatelli File for 2008
December 18: CLEAN-UP ON COLUMN 150, PLEASE
You'd think that we've pretty much run out of things to discuss after 150 or so columns this year. Nope. There's plenty to clean up before we head off for the holidays. To wit: Why is Obama following Bush and appointing a supposedly "bi-partisan" pick for DOT secretary?; thoughts on blind-buying sites as a way to cut travel costs in 2009; some more thoughts on BA's OpenSkies; the East Coast Shuttles continue to shrink; and the fate of fuel surcharges in a world of $40-a-barrel oil.
December 11: IT'S HAMMER TIME
We have the pricing hammer now and the travel industry is suddenly interested in negotiating, keeping our business, making nice and convincing us that it values our loyalty and our custom. So here are my best tips for keeping your elite status, driving down your hotel costs, moderating your airfares and getting the cheapest frequent flyer awards in 2009.
December 4: WHEN THE TAJ REOPENS, I'M THERE
I loved the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower when I spent a few days in Mumbai and I can't wait for it to reopen. When it does, I'll go to Mumbai even if I don't have any business to do. I'll plop myself in a room at the Taj specifically because that is what the terrorists don't want me to do.
November 28: BREAKING NEWS ON THE MUMBAI ATTACKS
Sadly, business travelers are all too familiar with global terrorism. We're easy targets, out of place and out of time, and always seen by the bad guys as the fast track to international publicity.
November 20: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
What do you get when you mix a lot of news, a little snark and some deep thoughts? Insight into Lufthansa's growth in Europe; the danger of naming your airport after a disgraced, defeated U.S. senator; the implosion of commercial aviation in Russia; some cool TV shows worth finding at the airport bar; the price of oil; and the inflation on bonus miles for frequent flyer credit cards. Like I said, nobody asked me, but...
November 13: NOW WHAT?
If we are in for a long, hard decline in the economy and in business travel--and we are--what's going to happen? How do we survive? How do our suppliers--airlines, hotels, car-rental firms, computer and telecom companies, credit-card providers--survive? There's no roadmap and no historical precedent for what comes next.
November 8: THE DERVISH-LIKE PRICING GAME
Oil is selling for $61 a barrel, down from a record high of $147. That would normally call for a rousing chorus or two of Happy Days Are Here Again--if only the decline hadn't been caused by the widening economic crisis and attended by a plummet in business travel. I mention those unhappy facts because they have everything to do with what follows: Substantive changes in how airlines charge for luggage, award frequent flyer miles and juggle their award charts.
November 3: JOE THE COLUMNIST EXPLAINS IT ALL: A GUIDE TO ELECTION-NIGHT VIEWING
I'm an election junkie. For me, Election Day is better than Christmas. And I've put together a cold-eyed view of how to watch tomorrow's elections on an hour-by-hour, key state by key state basis. Regardless of which candidates you support, the guide is intended to help you thread your way through the televised punditry tomorrow night.
October 23: CHEAPER, BETTER CIVILIZED FLYING
Everything you need to know about OpenSkies, the boutique airline that British Airways launched in June, was explained to me by Mark Ziekman, a frequent flying Dutch lawyer I met in business class on Sunday. His verdict: "I thought the bed was quite good. And the flight was better and cheaper than KLM. What's not to like?"
October 9: SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST
Nobody has ever mistaken me for Cary Grant, but I thought a night on a train, complete with a sleeping car and an assignation with an attractive blonde in the dining car, a la North by Northwest, might finally do the trick. Needless to say, Amtrak disappoints again, raising questions about whether long-haul trains are a useful option for business travelers.
October 2: THE BEST REVENGE? FLYING BUSINESS CLASS AT A BARGAIN.
Allow me to paraphrase 1 Corinthians: We might as well eat, drink and fly business class at a huge discount to someplace cool because tomorrow we might die economically. And here's the good news: There are amazing business-travel discounts now on offer. Among the best: great deals up front to Ireland, Scandinavia, Singapore, Paris and Amsterdam. I've got the prices, the places and the details.
September 18: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
So what does this week's dizzying financial news mean for us and the airlines? Why the declining price of oil isn't affecting fares and fees as the "experts" expected. And lots more, all served up with a healthy dollop of pith and snark.
September 12: HURRICANE IKE'S EFFECT ON TRAVEL
Hurricane Ike's dash through Texas created havoc in Houston--and the operations of Continental Airlines and Southwest Airlines there. It also whacked Dallas and American's hub at Dallas/Fort Worth. Here's how we covered it day-by-day.
September 11: SO FAR AWAY
9/11, I think, has come to own us. There are no dreams left to find on the road. We tick off the anniversaries, each year so far away from that horrific day, and feel empty and removed from our lives on the road now. But the road, I think, will soon belong to people who only know 9/11 as history. They will have dreams to find. They will have songs about moving along the highway that will say something new. That is as it should be.
September 5: THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
So what happened this week? Besides Sarah Palin and climatic chaos, I mean. Well, Starwood suggests we trade points for airline seats (bad idea). American Airlines is dead last in on-time efficiency (again and again). Alitalia is in crisis (talk about again and again). Real snakes on real planes (seriously). And much, much more in a very busy week indeed.
August 31: A DIFFICULT WEEK AHEAD ON THE ROAD
A confluence of events--computer glitches, bad weather and abrupt airline cutbacks--will make for a very difficult week on the road.
August 22: ONLY ONE THING HERE MATTERS
More than 150 of our fellow travelers died this week on a runway in Madrid. As is always the case with these horrific tragedies, the randomness is brutal. Stunning. Crushing. Why that plane? Why that flight? Why those flyers? Nothing of this matters compared to that, but its the news of the week: United cuts in-flight service (again); BA and AA want anti-trust immunity (again); Northwest "censors" airport advertising; Ryanair stiffs ticketed travelers; and more on laptop seizures and the border. Like I said, none of it compares to the tragedy in Madrid.
August 7: US, BY THE NUMBERS
We live in a world where everything we do is sliced and diced, focus-grouped and surveyed. Which is why we don't do any of that stuff at JoeSentMe.com. But last month, when I told you that a friend was gathering data on the mobile lifestyle, you responded with gusto. About 10 percent of you, in fact, weighed in with opinions. So, broadly speaking, this is who we are, how we travel and what we carry on the road with us. I think you'll be surprised by some of the results.
August 2: ANOTHER BIG FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAM DEVALUATION
Just as Delta Air Lines restores last seat availability to the SkyMiles programs, Continental Airlines puts some seats off limits at any price. So once again an airline says: There are times that we won't accept the currency we invented no matter how much of it you want to give us. And once again I ask: Why would you be invested in a program that says that?
July 31: ONE MORE TIME: DON'T CHECK BAGS. EVER.
We always find the Big Six at the nexus of arrogance and incompetence. And we always find the mainstream media covering the Big Six at the nexus of ignorance and obsequiousness. Which explains why there's all sorts of silliness--not to mention American's mess at JFK--about checked bags and checked-bag fees. Some sanity--and a reminder to never check bags with the Big Six.
July 17: LET THE BIG SIX DIE--OR BUY 'EM UP AND FIX 'EM
As if we didn't hate the Big Six enough, last week they spammed us. Multiple times. With the same idiotic message: Help us stop the evil oil speculators who are using the free market to do what we can't: make money. It's just the opening salvo in a drive for another bailout. But I have a better idea: Buy up the Big Six, fix them up and refloat them.
July 10: REASSESSING FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS
The Big Six have turned their frequent flyer programs into massive marketing machines on the front end and now they are taxing us usuriously on the back end if we dare claim a seat with the miles we've earned. The occasional high-value miracle redemption notwithstanding, it's time to cash out, change the parameters of our participation and reexamine the consequences of our loyalty.
June 26: CODES AND CLASSES AND COMPUTERS, OH MY!
OpenSkies, British Airways' boutique airline, has been flying for exactly a week and it already has an existential crisis on its hands. The middle cabin has an uninspired, made-up name. The seat comfort and in-flight perks are thisclose to business class. The introductory fare costs like coach. And the computerized booking code, W, is what most airlines now apply to their slightly-better-than-coach "premium economy" cabins.
June 17: CONTINENTAL'S HOLIDAY 'C' SALE IS BACK
It looks as if Continental Airlines has already loaded some of its Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's business-class fare sale. Time to rejoice. Time to pounce. Fast.
June 12: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
Okay, look, it's insane out there. So some less-stressful bites of news, a few laughs, a few funny links to good travel advertising. Oh, yeah, some pithy commentary on everything from the fact that US Airways will be charging almost as much for an in-flight beverage as the price of its stock to Hitler revisionists.
June 5: THE PASSING SEEN (AND HEARD)
Some week, eh? The Big Six are busy ripping the heart out of their operations. Democrats found themselves a Presidential nominee. Oil and the stock market are yo-yoing up and down. The NBA Finals have started. So I'm not surprised that you missed these important travel items. But don't worry. I've got your back and complete details.
May 29: THE LATE 2008 RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
We have all been here before, of course. You know, the big airlines in crisis and a long period of chaos, phony restructurings, calls for bailouts, mergers and reregulation and endless media-driven fantasies about everything from wingtips to wingnuts. How do we survive on the road? Here are my late 2008 rules of engagement.
May 22: OLD REPORTER YELLS AT CLOUD
It's my 55th birthday. This is also the 25th year that I have been writing about business travel and the 35th year that I've been traveling on business. If nothing else, all those chronological and geographical miles have given me perspective. What truly astonishes me today is how little things have changed while I've been on the road. The issues are the same--and so are the lies.
May 15: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
This week's commentary covers the dark side of JetBlue's Happy Jetting; more chaos at United; the lies about a potential Delta-Northwest merger; the emerging battle between Blackberry and iPhone for control of the mobile computing platform; some politics and sports observations; and much more.
May 1: ALL NEWS. NO SNARK. (OK, SOME SNARK.)
A busy week so I have to cram several columns into one. But I do (quickly) compare what the airlines are paying for fuel and what they are charging us; compare fares then and now to see what's been lost while our prices have supposedly declined; learn some details of that peculiar Eos bankruptcy; and try to connect some intriguing dots in the so-called open skies.
April 24: WHY UNITED IS FAILING AGAIN
After a huge first-quarter loss and a 35 percent one-day plunge in its share value, United Airlines management went into full panic mode this week. It raised fees, is trying a huge fare increase and will shrink the airline. Why is United so troubled just 28 months after exiting a 38-month-long bankruptcy? Because its post-bankruptcy plan was a cynical, self-serving fantasy. And that is no second guess. I said it then and the airline's current decline was completely predictable.
April 18: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
It was another terrible week on the road. I can't take it anymore, so I vent with some snappy comments; short, but insightful, analysis; and some good old snark. Also, solutions for everything from the flag pin "controversy" to the "mystery" of why everyone hates airlines.
April 14: THE INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS-CLASS BAZAAR, 2008 EDITION
As airlines inflate the walk-up price of international business-class seats, they are also 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.
April 12: PILOTS, MANAGEMENT AND 'SAFE' PLANES
The high cost of bad labor relations has been obvious all week at American Airlines. The carrier's executives have been at pains to claim that wiring problems on its grounded fleet of MD-80 aircraft were a "precise compliance" issue and not a "safety of flight" issue. But the official line has been consistently and quite publicly undercut by a virtual fifth column: American's own pilots.
April 10: YOU CAN'T EVEN GET TO HELL FROM HERE...
American Airlines says it will cancel more than 500 flights today and cancellations will continue into Saturday and Sunday. That's a total of 3,000 since Tuesday on four airlines. Complete, hour-by-hour details on this unprecedented situation.
April 3: A RANT ON THE NATURE OF THINGS
Airlines are dying. And I'm cool with that. It's called the circle of life or the nature of things or the business cycle. Don't be afraid, fellow travelers. The only thing we have to fear is the government getting in the way of the natural order of business and "saving" airlines with taxpayer-funded bailouts and hasty approvals of unnecessary mergers. A rant because, frankly, it's time for one.
April 2: STILL ANOTHER CRISIS OF CANCELLATIONS
It has become the mantra of 2008: A large airline has a maintenance snafu--either by missing required inspections or fouling up its inspection paperwork--and suddenly there are unexpected cancellations and displaced passengers. This week it's United Airlines and its entire fleet of 52 Boeing 777s.
March 29: THE SATURDAY-NIGHT SPECIAL
I'm nothing if not a guilt-ridden, news-driven Catholic school boy, so here I am on Saturday, bashing out an extra edition of The Brancatelli File. Some thoughts about the long-term implication of "reinspection" cancellations; the ongoing chaos at Heathrow; what the bankruptcy of Aloha Airlines means for Big Six competitive strategies; why Alitalia's wacky path toward extinction means something; and two of the world's most annoying people, Gordon Ramsey and Gloria Allred, invade the business-travel world.
March 27: A CRISIS OF CANCELLATIONS
American and Delta ground hundreds of their MD series of jets for reinspection. The predictable chaos of cancellations and schedule disruptions is made worse when the airlines lie about what's happening, the number of cancellations and how they alert flyers to the problems. Oh, and in the middle of it, American and Delta raise fares.
March 18: THE REALLY BIG BUSINESS-CLASS FARE SALE
It only happens twice a year. And this is one of those times. The airlines have dropped business-class fares as low as $799 one-way for travel this summer in Europe. We’ve got all of the details.
March 13: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
This week, a grab bag of news that might seem familiar: An airline named Pan Am folds; big carriers slash their fuel hedges even as the price of oil hits new records; Richard Branson talks about another airline that will never be; and where fares are five years after a classic clueless utterance by a Big Six executive.
March 12: SOUTHWEST GROUNDS DOZENS OF JETS
The Federal Aviation Administration last week proposed a record $10.2 million fine on Southwest Airlines for flying an estimated 60,000 flights on dozens of uninspected jets. Days later, Southwest briefly grounds dozens of the Boeing 737s. And it is all very curious.
March 7: WHERE THE ACTION IS
Everyone talks about the perks in the premium classes, but most of us fly coach. The problem with that truth: There's nothing to talk about in coach. Coach is what it is: The class of last and cheapest resort. So forgive me if I review some new stuff up front: the latest iteration of Continental's BusinessFirst; the first-class suites on Singapore Air's A380; business class on EuroFly; and the first-class cabins of Virgin America.
February 21: NOTHING ABOUT MERGERS. HONEST.
So here's a great idea: Let's not talk about mergers. Instead, let's discuss the airline battles of Milwaukee and Columbus; the higher cost of failure at Clear; why pilots are sleeping en route to Hilo; BA's new stopping strategy; Delta's endless series of BusinessElite configurations; and the end of airlines that fly from glass terminals.
February 7: LESS FOR THEM ISN'T MORE FOR US
United Airlines took another perk away from low-fare travelers this week. Unless you're an elite Mileage Plus member, you're limited to one free checked bag. United then did what airlines always do: claim that taking away from leisure flyers is somehow an enhanced benefit for frequent flyers. Well, less for them is not more for us--and you shouldn't let the airline convince you otherwise.
January 24: WHY BUSINESS TRAVEL IS STILL WORTH IT
I'm in Rome, where another Italian government collapsed last night. And it reminds me about the last great thing about business travel: The opportunity to be somewhere in the world when something interesting is happening there. Business travel, if we do it right, forces us out of our cubicles and into the lives and times of people and places that we'd otherwise never experience.
January 17: SIT DOWN. SHUT UP. BUCKLE UP.
About a dozen people were hurt yesterday when a jet crash-landed at London's Heathrow Airport. But almost as many were hurt last week when a jet flying over British Columbia ran into sudden difficulty due to turbulence or computer failure. All the folks injured were hurt because they weren't wearing their seat belts. So I ask: Do some of us have a death wish? Why can't we just sit down, shut up and buckle our belts? Why is that so hard?
January 10: OF MICE AND MISSILES
I'm no Steinbeck and I ducked 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 here's everything you need to know about mice on United Airlines; anti-missiles on American jets; the plane that killed the coyote; the long delays at Berlin's airport; and the strange presidential endorsement by a phony passenger's group.
January 3: WHERE WE STAND NOW
Consider this column a trail of business-travel breadcrumbs. We can revisit this stuff next year and see where we've been as we try to figure out where we're going. Hence I offer details on the current price of oil; the state of Big Six shares; a snapshot of the state of the dollar; what the researchers are saying about airport security now; and the quality of airline honesty.
These columns originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.
Copyright © 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.