THE SPRING CLEANING COLUMN
By Joe Brancatelli
April 16, 2009 -- When I launched the Brancatelli File on the Web in 1997, someone asked me how I could possibly find 52 columns a year to write about business travel. When Tactical Traveler launched the following year, same skepticism: How are you going to find four or five items each week about business travel?
After a while, my response was encased in rhetorical amber: There's so much happening in business travel that I could write a column every day and still leave important stuff in my notebook.
Now, in essence, I do write a column every day. The deals page began shortly after I stumbled into launching JoeSentMe after 9/11. And this is the start of the third year that I write Seat 2B over at Portfolio.com.
Guess what? This "spring cleaning" column has to be a collection of full-column-worthy developments that I nevertheless have to condense into brief items to accommodate all that needs to be covered. So get your metaphoric helmets on as we rush through some important stuff just to keep up to speed.
HATE YOUR AIRLINE? LAUNCH A WEB SITE
We could talk forever about the usefulness of venting at airlines via the Web, but it's a tradition to devote entire sites to the shortfalls of various carriers. I don't know who's behind the new Delta Sucks and United Sucks blogs, but they're furiously collecting string on their least favorite carriers. Two other anti-airline Web sites, American DisAdvantage and MileageMinus, are largely sponsored by unhappy airline labor groups.
HATE YOUR AIRLINE BOSS? LAUNCH A WEB SITE
Airline chief executives are notoriously fumble-mouthed, but none more than American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey. Every time he speaks, he reveals himself as a bean-counting second-stringer who does not think much of either his passengers or his employees. At the 2007 annual meeting of American's parent company, for example, Arpey dismissed complaints from employees, who noted that they were working under concessionary contracts while the airline's management was rewarded with outsized bonuses. Labor and management would simply have to "agree to disagree" about the sweet life in the corporate suites, Arpey said. "This is an issue on which we may have a hard time finding common ground," he unhelpfully added. Well, another bad year is upon American (it reported a $375 million first-quarter loss yesterday) and yet the management bonuses continue, albeit at a slightly reduced pace. How have the unions reacted this year? By launching a Web site called American Exec Check. Visitors play an interactive guessing game about Arpey's salary and compare it to the compensation paid to bosses at profitable companies such as Apple and Google.
IN THAT CASE, I THINK I'LL BUY O'HARE…
For as long as I've been covering business travel, some group or another has been agitating for the privatization of the nation's airports. All the evidence shows that privatized airports perform quite poorly--consider the physical and emotional state of London/Heathrow now that it is in the hands of a Spanish conglomerate--but that rarely stops some cash-hungry municipality intent on off-loading their aerodrome. Our most recent example: Midway Airport, which is now in the hands of MidCo, a private consortium that agreed to a $2.52 billion, 99-year lease to Chicago's second-busiest facility. MidCo missed its first payment on the lease earlier this month and one of the private firms involved in the consortium said the default "is not unexpected, given the current market conditions." Well, as long as no one is expected to make rent, I guess I can be convinced to take over an airport or two, too…
SKYPE FOR YOUR MOBILE DEVICES
Business travelers know Skype well as a way to keep the cost of international calls down. And lots of us are using Skype as a free or very cheap videoconference application, too. So it was inevitable that Skype would launch apps for iPhone and BlackBerry devices. Skype's iPhone app is already active and the company promises its BlackBerry app next month. Not surprisingly, the mobile phone firms (led by AT&T in the United States) are employing various tricks to try to block Skype from working on mobile devices. I don't need to tell you that this kind of backward thinking eventually backfires on the corporate entity trying to strangle progress. Just ignore the idiots running the mobile-phone firms. This, too, shall pass.
When I got back from Shanghai last week, a lot of folks asked me what it was like. My only answer: Imagine three New Yorks all smushed together and all built in the last 20 years. Even in these wacky economic times, the city's growth is nothing short of astounding and anywhere from 20-25 million people live there. And in case you weren't paying attention, there are now ten--that's right, TEN!--Marriott hotels in Shanghai. There are three Hyatt properties--New York only has one--including side-by-side hotels in mixed-used towers that are 88 and 101 stories tall.
LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE! IT'S A LOT OF EMPTY SEATS!
IATA, the global airline trade group, released its Premium Traffic Monitor today for the month of February and the numbers are mind-blowing: Premium-class traffic worldwide fell 21.1 percent, which follows declines of 16.7 percent (January), 13.3 percent (December), 11.5 percent (November), 6.9 percent (October) and 8 percent (September). The steepest decline was across the Pacific, where premium-class traffic fell 27.3 percent in February. Transatlantic traffic fell at a slightly smaller rate. Overall, airline revenue from premium-class traffic was down 30 percent in February, which will only accelerate the business-travel trends I predicted here and here last month.
A NEW BUSINESS-TRAVEL BLOG, THANKFULLY NOT BY ME…
Like I said at the beginning of this column, there's so much business-travel news out there that I could write every day. And that has led some of you to think that I should blog about business travel, too. Well, no, thanks, I do enjoy sleeping a few hours a day. But I have helped the fine folks at Portfolio craft a new, primarily business travel, blog called Itineraries. It's fronted by Josh Moss, who, among many other duties, has the truly thankless job of being the editor of my Seat 2B column. Josh can call on the truly vast resources of Conde Nast for bloggable material, he has a keen interest in travel and he seems to have a nearly inexhaustible supply of energy for the workload. And, boy, do we need fresh voices out there talking about business travel…
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.