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

The Transportation Security Administration hammered the final nail into the metaphoric coffin of so-called registered-traveler programs by deciding this week that membership cards in the now-defunct Clear plan cannot be used as identification at security checkpoints. That should all but kill Flo and Vigilant, the remaining programs, which operate at just three airports.

I think President Obama has done an okay job during his first five months in office, but his continued refusal (or inability) to appoint a new TSA Administrator is totally unacceptable. From a political point of view, not filling a security position such as TSA Administrator leaves him open to criticism about his dedication to fighting terrorism. From a practical standpoint, not appointing a TSA Administrator leaves the agency in the hands of the holdovers who have created a monstrous bureaucracy that doesn't fight terrorism, yet terrorizes poor schlep frequent flyers like us.

Nobody asked me, but…

Not to put too fine a point on my supply-and-demand column, but Continental Airlines reported its June performance yesterday and it makes my case even better than I did. Compared to June, 2008, Continental decreased its supply of available seats by 7.8 percent, more than the 6.5 percent decline in traffic. Yet its revenue plunged by 20 percent. So do you understand now? Supply has almost nothing to do with the price of an airline seat. It's all about demand. And since demand is down, so are prices.

On the other hand, capacity has come down enough--and airlines have cut prices enough--that there's not likely to be a blow-out fare sale over the Fourth of July holiday. It's the first time in four or five years that I won't be standing (er, sitting) guard waiting to send out an E-mail blast about a too-good-to-miss July 4th promotion.

Nobody asked me, but…

Know what struck me about the death this week of 97-year old Karl Malden, the terrific stage and screen actor? His commercials for American Express Travelers Cheques were so long ago that an entire generation of travelers has grown up not knowing what travelers checks are. If you remember those arresting "Don't leave home without them!" television spots from the 1970s and 1980s, a batch of them have hit YouTube, the repository of our televised past.

The best headline from all of the newspaper stories on the death of loud, bearded TV pitchman Billy Mays: "But Wait! There's No More!"

Nobody asked me, but…

Marriott and Starwood both announced this week that they would install a network of Cisco-powered teleconferencing rooms in hotels in key cities around the world. Gee, haven't we already lived through all of this? I have press releases from hotel chains and telecom firms dating back to the early 1980s talking about nascent networks of teleconferencing rooms. Some were actually built. Time to move on, boys. Haven't you heard of webcams and fast, cheap, on-demand, at-your-computer video systems like Skype and ooVoo?

Here's some good news: the Victoria-Jungfrau resort in Interlaken, Switzerland, now offers 30-hour room "nights." Gee, and I'd be happy if my airport hotel gave me a two-hour late checkout after I arrived at 4 in the morning. I once got into a hotel room for a one-night stay so late that my bill had already been slipped under the door. That's really cold.

Nobody asked me, but…

I don't want to throw cold water on the bravery of the Iranian protesters, but, as far as I know, there ain't a rial's worth of difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. Both call the United States "the Great Satan." And both Mousavi and old I'm a Dinner Jacket want to destroy Israel.

By the way, it was admirable that Twitter.com played so large a role in the Iranian protests. And I know a lot of people like Twitter. But where's the profit angle? Somehow, I don't think the micro-blogging site's investors are in it for political influence in Farsi-speaking nations.

Nobody asked me, but…

The crash of the Yemenia Airbus en route to the Comoros Islands this week has renewed calls for a worldwide "blacklist" of airlines that do not meet generally accepted safety standards. The problem? The doomed Yemenia flight originated in Paris and Yemenia is not on the European Community's existing blacklist of carriers that aren't allowed to operate in Europe.

I know my life on the road is much better now that John Weikle, the self-aggrandizing fool who started Skybus and bailed just before it tanked, has launched a public-charter airline called JetAmerica. The launch already has been delayed a month--the July 13 start has slipped to mid-August--and you have to wonder why taxpayers in cities such as Toledo, Lansing and South Bend are paying JetAmerica to "fly" there.

Nobody asked me, but…

Stuart Smalley goes to the Senate. I'm not sure this is what Frank Capra had in mind with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

This just in: Michael Jackson is still dead. But Generalissimo Francisco Franco is said to be improving.

Nobody asked me, but…

I'm a guy, so I use any soap or shampoo I find in my room, but I recently came across Tarocco in a hotel bathroom. It's made from extracts of Sicilian blood oranges, olive oil and apricot pits. And it smells like orange juice when you wash your face or shampoo your hair. (Okay, in my case, shampoo my scalp…) I was so impressed that I bought some stuff from the Tarocco Web site. Although I do admit I feel guilty spending $30 for a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo.

I had a lovely stay recently at the Fitzpatrick Grand Central hotel in Manhattan. (I booked it through Quikbook.) It's very Irish--my room had a picture of Gabriel Byrne on the desk and there's a portrait of the president of Ireland behind the front desk--with a nifty pub called the Wheeltapper. It's also where I found the Tarocco stuff in the bathroom. Irish hotel in New York with Italian amenities in the bathroom. Sorta makes my head hurt…

Nobody asked me, but…

Is Mark Sanford still confessing indiscretions? I've been hiking the Appalachian Trail and missed a couple of days…

A word of advice to guys who have affairs: Don't tell the press your mistress is your soulmate, but you're trying to fall back in love with your wife. You will so find the locks on the state house changed when you return.

Nobody asked me, but…

According to the latest figures, commuter carriers now operate more than 50 percent of the nation's scheduled domestic departures. They carry almost a quarter of the nation's domestic passengers. And almost none of them have their own reservations systems, relying instead on the services of the Big Six carriers for whom they fly. That is not a smart way to run your business, guys…

United Airlines has sent a memo to a couple of dozen travel agents that essentially forces the agents to eat the 2-4 percent cost of credit card charges when a client buys a ticket on United. It could be the first shot in the war to shift the cost of credit card fees onto flyers.

Nobody asked me, but…

Microsoft has set October 22 as the release date for Windows 7, the replacement for the unloved Windows Vista. In other words, even if you desperately need a desktop or laptop PC, and even if the computer stores want to give you a Vista computer this weekend, hold out for Windows 7 machines.

Most of my work life--everything I've written since 1994, files, client records, backups of thousands of JoeSentMe pages, my picture of a Bungalow Bar truck--now fits on a couple of thumb drives. I store them in an antique Tabloid Tea tin--a present from my wife--that's smaller than a box of Altoids and fits in a pocket in my carry-on bag. Work doesn't amount to much, does it?
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.