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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
April 2, 2009 -- Nobody asked me, but…

United Airlines' decision to kill its customer-complaint telephone line as a way to improve complaint handling gives me an idea: Why doesn't United stop flying as a way to improve its flight service? I mean, if you don't fly, you can't be bad.

US Airways spent months promoting its phony No. 1 ranking in 2008 on-time performance, then it promptly tanked in January. To avoid embarrassing public relations flubs in the future, why doesn't US Airways simply stop publishing schedules? Then it can claim 100 percent on-time take-off and landing performance all the time.

Nobody asked me, but…

The sharp decline in business travel that comes along with the recession has hit hotels very hard. But why don't hotels simply sell us receipts? You know, we don't have to actually stay in the hotel, but they could sell us a bill so we can put it on our expense account.

And why doesn't Microsoft start selling us blue-screen images for our video teleconferences? Instead of having people know we're working from our basement home offices, we could have a blue-screen image of the New York or Seattle skyline or a hotel lobby in Hamburg or Hong Kong.

Nobody asked me, but…

I see The New York Times wrote what we journalists call a BJ on Spirit Airlines and the offensive idiots who run the joint and invent fees to "unbundle" from the basic airfare. But did you notice the piece didn't actually say Spirit was making money?

Speaking of fees and airline profits (or, more accurately, the lack of them): Have you noticed that airline revenue began plummeting almost exactly from the moment last year when American launched the first-bag fee that most carriers have now adopted? It is, I admit, a logical fallacy to suggest a direct correlation, but the dirty little secret about unbundling is that airlines have no way to track how much business they lose by imposing new fees. All they have is a purported revenue stream for "ancillary" revenue but no way to find out how many customers (and how much revenue) the new fees have driven away.

Nobody asked me, but…

I think I've seen the future of hotel connectivity. At least two hotels I've visited in recent weeks have had panels that included: a series of universal power plugs; the Ethernet (RJ-45) and phone modem (RJ-11) ports; an iPod/music player hookup; an HDMI port so you could connect your laptop to the flat-screen TV; and a traditional computer video port and RCA audio port if you wanted to connect your laptop to the TV the old-fashioned way.

Word to the wise: When you buy your next laptop, make sure it has the HDMI port. It's the fastest, easiest, most efficient and least complicated way to connect your computer to a hotel TV so you can route your work (not to mention your audio and video sources) to the big screen.

Nobody asked me, but…

I just got back from China last night and had pleasant, comfortable and uneventful business-class flights both ways on Continental Airlines. Continental isn't perfect, but it deserves much credit for keeping its BusinessFirst product fresh. My Boeing 777s had its latest near lie-flat seats and the airline's newish audio-video on-demand system. Besides, the planes are clean, the lounges are good and the in-flight service is all I want without being obsequious or obtrusive. By comparison, US Airways is bad and American and United are offering too little too late with their cramped, ungainly flat beds. And if you can figure out what Delta is doing with all of its various in-flight business-class products, you're a better flyer than me.

Over the weekend, I flew a coach leg between Shanghai and Beijing on Air China. Besides the fact they are using Boeing 747s on the 90-minute flights, you get about 34 inches of legroom and a full meal, too. (I don't eat on planes, but the chicken was pretty good, the veggies crisp and the rice fluffy.) The walk-up one-way fare on the 663-mile flight: about US$150. Draw your own comparisons and conclusions.

Nobody asked me, but…

Before I left, the boobs at American Express' corporate travel agency put out a report urging its clients to offer "entitled travelers" a cut of the savings if they agreed to move back to coach on long flights. Now that will surely save money on the T&E budget, but what about the cost to the client when an "entitled traveler" blows a multi-million dollar deal because he or she is bleary-eyed and out of sorts after a long haul in coach?

Even this morning, after a business-class return flight and seven hours of sleep in my own bed, the first thing I did was spill coffee all over my desk. And I'm having trouble spelling Brancatelli.

Nobody asked me, but…

Life on Mars ended on ABC last night. The American version of the British show had a horrifically hokey happy ending, a drastic departure from the complex, psychologically nuanced conclusion to the British series. And that's why American network television continues to be trash compared to the stuff on our pay-per-view channels and the best of the British and Australian shows out there.

I'd suggest you get the two British runs of Life on Mars, which are available cheap from Amazon's UK store. But I'm surprised how many business travelers don't yet own a region-free DVD player that allows you to play DVDs from anywhere in the world. I highly recommend you get one. All mine come from Popular Electronics in Chicago.

Nobody asked me, but…

Did anyone really care if French president Nicholas Sarkozy walked out of the G-20 Summit? Why do we still listen to the French about anything anyway?

Speaking of people no one should listen to, I see where US Airways chief executive Doug Parker is predicting a profit in 2009.

Nobody asked me, but…

Want a sense of how fast airline traffic is falling? Consider these airport numbers from December: Las Vegas down 14.1 percent. Chicago/O'Hare down 14.5 percent. Madrid down 11.8 percent. Los Angeles down 10 percent.

Costa Rica has added a $15 tax on airline passengers arriving from international destinations. Want to bet that will be the first of a blizzard of new fees and taxes imposed on travelers as the cities, states and countries desperately search for revenue?

Nobody asked me, but…

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched its Secure Flight program this week. Although you won't see any real changes immediately, sooner rather than later you'll be required to give airlines your date of birth and gender with every reservation. And the name on your ticket will have to match--exactly--the name on your form of identification. All this is supposed to reduce the number of people unfairly tagged for extra security screening because they are on the TSA's bloated terrorist watch lists. Word to the wise: Make sure your tickets, identification and frequent flyer programs all have the same name before Secure Flight kicks in with a vengeance.

Dumb security trick of the week: Waiting to clear customs and immigration on arrival at Newark yesterday, I watched Customs agents and their rent-a-cops go through the lines demanding people stop making or receiving calls on their mobile phones. No one bothered those of us checking our smartphones for text and E-mail messages. I guess the government thinks evil terrorists only plan nefarious plots by voice.

Nobody asked me, but…

Walking on a street in Beijing the other day, the outdoor speakers of a shopping mall were playing a vaguely Chinese version of Dindi, the Jobim bossa nova classic. I was walking through the Piazza del Popolo in Rome recently and there was a pick-up group playing a swinging Girl from Ipanema. Four of the ten albums in the jazz section on the Continental Airlines entertainment system were bossa nova. Sky.fm has its own bossa nova channel. Life continues to be good for us bossa nova freaks.

Baseball season start yet?
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.