E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2009 COLUMNS    ARCHIVES    SEARCH ARCHIVES
PASSING OVER THE TRAVEL ZONE
By Joe Brancatelli
July 9, 2009 -- Can I say something first? Regardless of what you think about Sarah Palin politically, she's wrong about what a good point guard does when faced with a full-court press. As any high-school basketball coach will tell you, you do not dribble through a full-court press. You pass over it. Short, crisp passes.

Ah, I feel better. And now that I've channeled Hank Iba and Adolph Rupp, I will defer my lecture on the box-and-one defense and pass over to this week's happenings in travel. And if you think Sarah Palin in waders is odd, Al Franken in the Senate is weird or pallbearers in white sequined gloves is bizarre, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just check this stuff out…

HOW TO GET AN AIRLINE TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR COMPLAINTS
It's not exactly Rogers & Hammerstein, but the libretto goes something like this: A Canadian country musician named Dave Carroll, who fronts a band called Sons of Maxwell, checked his Taylor guitar on a United Airlines flight. United trashes it in transit. Carroll pays $1,200 for the repairs and tries to get United to make good. United, of course, gives him a year-long runaround and then says no. So Carroll writes a catchy song, shoots a hilarious music video and posts it on YouTube. The music video, prosaically called United Breaks Guitars, goes viral, races around the Internet, then pushes Carroll's tale of woe into the mainstream media. Embarrassed by all the negative publicity, United finally decides to "reach out" to Carroll and make amends. "This struck a chord with us," a United spokeswoman told the press. This airline, and its witless minions, really can't die fast enough. I'd call them and tell them so, but, as you probably recall, United turned off its customer-service telephone lines several months ago. I guess I'll just send them a video. You know, something fun, like a riff on The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

BOOK IT, DANNO. THE ILIKAI CLOSES.
The Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki was scheduled to close today. There are dozens of reasons to mourn its passing. It was the first luxury high-rise hotel in Honolulu when it opened in 1964. My wife, who moved to Hawaii as a child, spent some weeks there before her family's home was ready. She says it was where she learned to order from room service. The Ilikai was the first hotel I visited when I went to Hawaii on assignment for Frequent Flyer in 1984. I liked the place so much I briefly moved to Honolulu. Over its 45-year history, it was part of the Westin, Renaissance and Nikko chains. And, of course, the Ilikai became a worldwide icon when it was used in the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O. (Jack Lord is standing on an Ilikai balcony.) But the Ilikai isn't just nostalgia, it's a living monument to the danger of condo-hotel operations and being either a guest or an owner there. Even in 1984, when I first stayed at The Ilikai, the hotel portion of the complex was in desperate need of repairs. Westin blamed the delay on troubles with the apartment owners. Each successive management tussled with the residents, whose financial and lifestyle interests rarely coincided with the interests of a resort hotel. The Web site maintained by some of the Ilikai's full-time residents shows how strained the relationship can become. Until the economy collapsed last fall, condo-hotels and timeshare hotels were all the rage. Now they are falling faster and harder than any other part of the lodging market. The Ilikai was there first. Unfortunately.

TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION DEPARTMENT
The economic morass we're living through is hammering the budgets of local governments. And guess where local burghers are looking for help in filling the financial shortfall? Yup, business travelers, who have neither the vote nor any representation in the places where taxes are being heaped upon us. A few recently passed taxation measures aimed directly at us include a one-point jump in Hawaii's hotel tax; a 3 percent rise on hotel lodging in Las Vegas; a new 5 percent fee on car rentals at Newark airport; and as much as a 2 percent bump in the tax on eating out in Massachusetts. The biggest jump of all, however, is in Wisconsin, where a special levy on car rentals could rise as high as $18 from its current $2 level. The additional fee will be imposed by an as-yet unstaffed body called the Southeast Regional Transit Authority. Its job to is help fund and build a commuter rail line running connecting Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee. I'm all for mass transit and I've gone on record saying that I'd gladly pay more taxes for more intelligent rail projects. But to give taxing powers to strangers--people who haven't even been appointed yet--seems, well, a little strange.

MAYBE THEY'LL REVIVE PLYMOUTH AND DESOTO, TOO…
I own a 2003 Chrysler Sebring Convertible, so saying this gives me absolutely no pleasure: The new Chrysler is doomed. Doomed. The fresh-from-bankruptcy carmaker, now an effective subsidiary of the U.S. government and Fiat of Italy, this week appointed a new board of directors and two of the names are disturbingly, disgustingly familiar. One of Fiat's nominees: Stephen Wolf, the buccaneer who "earned" upwards of $30 million a year while beginning the destruction of United Airlines and then took tens of millions more while running US Airways. His airline career effectively ended with the failed bid in 2000 to merge US Airways into United, which would have given him a golden parachute worth about $70 million. One of the U.S. government's nominees: Doug Steenland, former chief executive of Northwest Airlines who last year steered the carrier into the waiting arms of Delta Air Lines, helmed by Richard Anderson, his former boss at Northwest. During Steenland's Northwest tenure, he all but forced a crippling mechanics strike, allowed the carrier's service to deteriorate to levels unseen even for Northwest--and, most notably, approved a pamphlet that urged laid-off employees to consider dumpster diving as a way to make ends meet. Meanwhile, if you're interested in a low-mileage silver convertible with a black top, please contact me. I'm looking at a 1975 AMC Pacer.
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.