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LIFE ON THE ROAD GOES ON--OR NOT
By Joe Brancatelli
June 4, 2009 -- I was sitting in a car bumping around the Isle of Anglesey in Wales on Monday when my BlackBerry exploded with E-mail.

An Air France flight from Rio had gone missing over the Atlantic was the gist of the burst of messages from friends, colleagues and a clutch of airline people. A few came cut-and-pasted with the first, sketchy reports from the Associated Press or Reuters, but there wasn't much else to say.

A plane suddenly goes off the grid and those of us who live our lives on the road know immediately: They're all dead. They're all gone. Again.

By the time I got back to New York on Tuesday evening, I'd gotten a few more messages. This time, they were about the Transportation Security Administration's abrupt and inexplicable decision to stop Delta Air Lines from launching the first of its long-scheduled new flights to Monrovia, Liberia, and Nairobi, Kenya.

Too dangerous was the gist of the pronouncement from the TSA, the secretive, leaderless federal cabal that now apparently has the right to tell airlines where they can fly. In some unnamed, unknown bureaucrat's view, Delta couldn't fly to those African cities because there was "a credible threat to civil aviation ... The current threat is too significant to permit these flights."

Today I watched President Barack Obama give a speech in Egypt after first flying to Saudi Arabia. I didn't hear anyone worry about the safety of a President in two places that fairly seethe with Islamic militancy and burn with virulent strains of anti-American fervor.

So what are we supposed to do now? Grieve for 228 passengers and crew who died a cold, dark and, one assumes, horrific and random death when Air France Flight 447 found its way into the sea? Rail at the a-holes who tell us where we can fly? Marvel at a president who travels unfettered to two of the most dangerous places on Earth, but who hasn't found the time to appoint a TSA administrator during the first four-plus months of his Administration?

Do it all? Walk away numb and sad and angry? Ignore it all? Laugh at the lunacy of it all? Cry?

I know you come to this space every week for some answers, but this week I don't even know the questions. I know you come to this space every week for a good rant, but this week there's too much to rant about. I know you come to this space every week for some sage advice, but this week there's no way I can confidently advise anyone about a world where fellow flyers disappear into the Atlantic and bureaucrats control the skies.

Besides, I've written about life and death on the road before. Dozens of times. Just a few months ago, in fact, when we cheered Captain Sullenberger's man-made miracle on the Hudson and just days later stared numbly at the pictures of fire and ice just short of Buffalo Airport. Rants at the bureaucrats? I've written a million in the Brancatelli File. Complaints about President Obama's unwillingness to appoint a TSA Administrator? I did that last week and the week before that.

But what did any of those words change?

I'm nowhere this week. You're nowhere this week. We're powerless. At the mercy of the gods who decide who lives and dies and bureaucrats who seem intent on telling us where we can live or die.

In time, I will read the stories about Air France 447 and try to separate the metaphoric wheat from the chaff oozing from commentators who flap their gums when the cameras roll and speculate mindlessly about the unknown and the possibly unknowable. There's already a Wikipedia entry on Air France 447. And even an Air France 447 Web site.

In time, I will try to figure out what the lunatics at the TSA are doing when they order airlines not to fly just hours before they launch flights originally announced and scheduled more than six months ago. I will try to figure out why it's okay for British Airways or Lufthansa to fly to Africa, but not Delta. I will try to find out who thinks he or she has the power to tell us where we can travel.

But not today. Today I am walking away, literally and figuratively. It's still light out and I am going to take a walk. And when I come back maybe I'll watch the basketball game.

I'll mourn tomorrow or next week or next month. Those pour souls on Air France Flight 447 are dead now. I can't help them. You can't help them. The TSA is out of control and we can't even start taking back our lives until our President steps up and puts someone in charge. I can't fix it. You can't fix it.

Life on the road goes on. Or it doesn't. It's hard to tell the difference just now.
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.

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This column is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.