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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
February 25, 2009 -- Nobody asked me, but…

I'm strangely unmoved to fly US Airways now that it will resume offering complimentary soft drinks to domestic coach passengers. A slag heap with a free Diet Coke is still a slag heap.

I wonder if US Airways management is prepared for the backlash. After all, US Airways president Scott Kirby warned only a few months ago that his flight attendants would "riot" if the airline returned to free beverages.

Nobody asked me, but…

ESPN analyst Stacey Dales has left the sports network because it would not let her fly first class, a perk bestowed on most of her other on-camera colleagues. Good for her.

You might want to double-check your rental car before you drive it off the lot these days. The rental firms are having trouble raising money to buy new fleets and they can't dump their existing vehicles at a realistic price because the used-car market has collapsed. The result: Lots of clunkers for unsuspecting renters at the airport.

Nobody asked me, but…

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about the big stimulus bill, but I do know this: There's no money in it for a maglev train between Disneyland and Las Vegas. If you're in an area represented by a Senator or Representative who voted against the "stim," why not call his or her office and ask them to point you to the part of the bill that funds such a project? What you'll hear at the other end of the line will be silence.

And let's not forget John Mica, the blowhard Florida Congressman who fancies himself an expert on transportation issues. In a press release released after the stim passed, Mica points to the $8 billion devoted to rail projects and said: "I applaud President Obama's recognition that high-speed rail should be part of America's future." Mica didn't actually vote for the bill, you understand…

Nobody asked me, but…

It was about time we had a worthy successor to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, work has stopped on a planned seven-story Homewood Suites due to a series of construction flaws, including cracks in the elevator tower. And the still-incomplete building has sunk five inches since it was erected.

Heartache! Earlier today, local officials ordered the demolition of the Leaning Hotel of Fort Wayne. That's not the way the Italians would have handled it.

Nobody asked me, but…

I keep hearing that we can't cap the pay and bonuses of the hotshots at the big banks we bail out with taxpayer funds because they'll just go work somewhere else. But where are all these overpaid fools going to go? I mean, only one can have Glenn Tilton's job as chief executive of United Airlines.

Speaking of United, they've hired an outsider to be top honcho of the airline's feeble media, public relations and communications operation. Tilton hired Tony Cervone, the number-two man in the PR department of General Motors. Want to call United and complain? No can do. The airline has turned off the complaint lines. Really. I'm not making any of this up.

Nobody asked me, but…

Michael O'Leary, the very calculating lunatic who runs Ryanair, Europe's ultra-stripped-down budget carrier, says he wants to eliminate the airline's airport check-in desks by the end of the year. I'm down with that. I'll be eliminating Ryanair from my flying plans, so I won't need a check-in desk.

O'Leary recently told the Financial Times that all of his pens--"Biros" in European English--are stolen from hotel rooms. Which is cool since I hear Bill Marriott is flying to Europe to steal all of Ryanair's check-in counters.

Nobody asked me, but…

A big aviation consultancy says there are now 2,800 jet aircraft "parked" and out of service. At least 400 more are headed for zombie status this year. I suppose we could turn them into minimum-security prisons for all the fiduciary criminals we're going to arrest. How'd you like to stick Bernie Madoff or John Thain in a middle seat in coach and let him stew there for a couple of years?

Speaking of financial titans, Mel Karmazin, the genius who merged XM Radio and Sirius and saddled it with $3 million in debt, now wants business travelers to lock in their satellite-radio subscriptions for at least a year to avoid price increases. No matter that the company came thisclose to bankruptcy this month and may be bust by the summer. My reaction? I'm disconnecting my two XM radios and switching to Sky.fm for Internet listening. Nice work, Mel…

Nobody asked me, but…

The Turkish Airlines crash near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Wednesday killed nine people, including five Americans. But Turkish chairman Candan Karlitekin initially said there were no deaths. That's why airlines shouldn't--and usually don't--talk about crashes in the first hours and days of a tragedy.

Two fatal crashes in two weeks and dozens of dead fellow travelers suddenly makes last month's miracle of US Airways Flight 1549 seem like a long, long time ago, doesn't it?

Nobody asked me, but…

Start checking your room rates carefully since hotel chains are going in separate directions to deal with the wicked downturn in occupancy rates. Hilton, for example, has gone for "naked discounts"--in other words, outright reductions in room rates. On the other hand, Marriott is loading up with "value-added" offers--gift cards, discounts against future stays, food-and-beverage bundles--in an attempt to keep its rates high.

Keep your flight options open, too. I think we're going to see stupendous, precedent-setting sale fares in the next few weeks. There is no indication--none--that business travel, especially premium-class business travel, will rebound any time soon. I think we're going to see a bloodbath across the Atlantic this summer and we'll get some real bargains to Asia and Latin America.
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.