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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
January 22, 2008 -- Nobody asked me, but…

American Airlines this week reported a fourth-quarter loss of $214 million excluding special charges. United Airlines lost $547 million. Can someone explain how the airline that is less than three years out of bankruptcy, shed billions in debt and dumped its employee pensions is losing money more than twice as fast as a similarly sized carrier that didn't go bust?

Oh, right, United chairman and chief executive Glenn Tilton and chief operating officer John Tague are arrogant, incompetent, obscenely overpaid hacks. I forgot. Makes you almost admire Gerard Arpey, the plodding, clueless bean counter who is destroying American much more slowly…

Speaking of giants in the travel-CEO gene pool, how 'bout Christopher Nassetta, top dog at Hilton Hotels? In the midst of the worst economy in decades and a plummeting lodging market, Nassetta announced this week that he's moving Hilton headquarters to Washington from its decades-long roost in Beverly Hills. Why spend millions on such a transcontinental frivolity? You think it has anything to do with the fact that he grew up in Washington and he was running a hotel company in Washington when he took the Hilton gig? Don't you just love it when a CEO uproots his entire company for his own convenience?

Nobody asked me, but…

Oh, joy, Kate Hanni is back with another version of her unworkable "passenger's rights" bill. And, right on schedule, the usual knee-jerk gang of see-no-evil industry apologists are back with the same inane defenses of the airlines: Hours-long tarmac delays don't happen that often. Carriers are "working hard" to fix the problem. And all those passengers who have been held hostage for five hours in a tube are happy to wait three hours more on the vague hope that the plane might eventually take off.

In case you don't know, Hanni's bill, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Ca) and Olympia Snow (R-Me), requires that you be allowed to deplane when the aircraft returns to the gate after three hours as a hostage. But it doesn't require that an airline offer alternate transportation if you disembark. It doesn't require that an airline retrieve your checked luggage. It doesn't require that an airline refund your money if you choose not to fly after disembarking. And it has the requisite "safety or security" loophole that will allow airlines to render the bill useless.

The much better way to stop avoidable tarmac delays is to do what the Transportation Department suggests: incorporate the matter into the contracts of carriage that airlines impose on us. Then when an airline treats us like we're prisoners at Gitmo we can sue their corporate asses in a local court. Hitting the airlines in the wallet is the only thing they understand. Legislating airline "morality" never works, especially when the legislation is irreparably flawed. Airlines understand financial pain, nothing else.

Nobody asked me, but…

The best thing about the election being over is that I don't have to read the political blogs anymore. The right wingnuts keep insisting that they didn't really lose and people still like them best. The left wingnuts are just whiny. And don't get me started on those Hillary Clinton "puma" dead-enders…

Rush Limbaugh always struck me as a gasbag. But even his dittoheads should be appalled by his wishes for President Obama. "I hope he fails," Limbaugh said plainly last week. What part of the job do you hope he punts, Rush? The saving jobs and keeping America out of a depression part? Or the finishing two wars and keeping American military personnel safe part?

Rachel Maddow over at MSNBC should not be ignored, even if you don't like left-wing talkers. She is smart, inquisitive and very polite to her guests. She doesn't yell. I like political discussions that don't degenerate into shouting matches. And she has learned the mechanics of running a TV show--hitting the breaks, making the segues, modulating her voice--with admirable speed.

Nobody asked me, but…

Spirit Airlines, the world's most passenger-repulsive carrier, took a lot of heat this week when it tried to charge a cancellation fee to the people it rebooked on US Airways Flight 1549 after their original Spirit flight cancelled. But can we give the devil its due? There was no chance that the minimum-wage slaves that Spirit uses in "customer service" knew that these flyers had been in an accident. There are plenty of things to hate Spirit for without drawing the worst motives here.

There's a media kerfuffle over whether US Airways was unfairly pushing the "hero pilot" angle at the expense of the equally heroic first officer and three flight attendants. My feeling is that pilots are like quarterbacks, they always end up as the public face of a much larger team. If you really want to fault US Airways, how about the fact that it sent out two press releases in the first 48 hours with its chief executive, Doug Parker, in the headline? Who cares about that doofus?

Memo to you guys who send me E-mails about the age and appearance of flight attendants. I always want flight attendants who are experienced and know what they are doing up there. "Pretty young things" are fine on the catwalk of a fashion show. On a flight, give me Sheila Dail (57), Doreen Welsh (58) and Donna Dent (51), whose combined 92 years of experience contributed to a flawless, 90-second, on-the-water evacuation of US Airways Flight 1549.

Nobody asked me, but…

I wasn't initially impressed with President Obama's Inauguration Speech, but this line is beginning to stick in my head: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." This is America and the only safety we have is our ideals. We have no common tribe or common religion or common ethnic heritage to fall back on. All we have are our ideals. And, as Benjamin Franklin once said, trade a little liberty for a little safety and you'll end up with neither.

Why doesn't it reassure me that Obama's nominee for Treasury Secretary uses TurboTax? What's next? Does he want to use QuickBooks to track the TARP bailout?

The battle over the Minnesota Senate seat and the circuses surrounding Caroline Kennedy and Roland Burris convince me that there has to be a better way. How about this: an election. Whenever there is a vacancy, there is a special election in 90 days rather than a gubernatorial appointment. Whenever there is a race decided by less than 0.1 percent of the vote, we have a special rerun. Why let politicians rely on appointments and the courts when voters can and should decide?

Nobody asked me, but…

I'm down with Fiat taking a 35 percent stake in Chrysler. I'd buy one of those Alfa Romeo sedans I see on the street in Rome. So long as Chrysler doesn't bring in any of those Fiat Multiplas. It's the only car with a roll of fat around the middle.

I bought a Netbook, the AspireOne, at Walmart the other day because it was half the size and half the weight of my current laptop. And who can argue with a $350 price tag? My wife took one look at it and dismissed it "a big BlackBerry." The touchpad is so goofy that I'll have to use an external mouse and, frankly, it doesn't surf the Web all that fast. Kinda defeats the purpose of a Netbook…

Patrick McGoohan, the brilliant actor and visionary creator of The Prisoner, died at 80 last week. If you've never seen the 1960s masterpiece, perhaps the best television show ever produced, grab the 17-episode DVD set. Then cash some miles and get to Portmeirion, the phantasmagorial Welsh resort that was the set for "The Village," where McGoohan's Number 6 was imprisoned.

Nobody asked me, but…

We've all been cowed since 9/11 by airline employees who threaten to "call security" whenever we question anything they do. Now a frightening story in the Los Angeles Times more than confirms our worst fears about what's been happening.

Visa, or more accurately Barclays Bank, has introduced a black card. It's apparently aimed at us business travelers and they really must think we're stupid. The fee is astronomical ($495 a year), the benefits aren't notable and they claim "the black card is made with carbon…guaranteed to get you noticed."

From the silver-lining department of the economic crisis: The British pound is collapsing even faster than the U.S. dollar, which means the pound has dropped to exchange levels not seen in more than 20 years. These days, the pound is only at $1.38 compared to more than $2 last summer. In other words, if we have any dollars left, they'll suddenly go a long, long way in London.
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 © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.