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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
By Joe Brancatelli
August 6, 2009 -- Nobody asked me, but…

The rules say you can't build a hotel on the railroads, but Kimpton has opened the 202-room Hotel Monaco inside the former B&O Railroad headquarters building in Baltimore. No word if you get a little red plastic marker on your pillow at turndown.

But it's good to know that you still can't build hotels on Community Chest. A New York State Supreme Court judge ruled last week that the city of White Plains can remove a granite marker for the Ritz-Carlton hotel that was built on a municipal traffic island. The Ritz-Carlton's developer actually argued that the city had acted illegally when it refused to sell or lease him the traffic island after he had unilaterally placed the marker.

Nobody asked me, but…

Mesa Air Group, the commuter airline behemoth, launched go! on inter-island Hawaii routes in 2006 and everyone knew it had one way to succeed: to knock financially shaky Aloha Airlines out of the market. Aloha collapsed early last year. Now Mesa is financially shaky and guess what? Another big commuter player, Republic Airways, scooped up 89 percent of Mokulele Airlines, which launched inter-island Hawaii flights after Aloha tanked. Republic's path to profit? Knock go! out of the market. Ain't cosmic retribution a bitch?

Continental Airlines has apologized to India's thin-skinned governing class. The carrier's big crime? It followed Transportation Security Administration rules and required former president Abdul Kalam to submit to a security check in April before he boarded a flight from New Delhi to Newark. Should I have demanded an apology from Indian officials last year after I had to race through Delhi airport with a boarding pass when a colleague was denied entry to the building because he didn't have paper proof of his E-ticket for that same Continental flight?

Nobody asked me, but…

It was a lousy week to be a flyer. On Monday, 26 passengers were severely injured on a Continental Airlines flight when the Boeing 767 was rocked by severe turbulence en route from Rio de Janeiro to Houston. On Tuesday, at least four passengers were injured and the pilot was killed when a Bangkok Airways ATR-72 skidded off the runway at Samui Airport. Later in the day, a flight attendant and a passenger were injured when a Northwest Airlines regional jet encountered turbulence between Knoxville and Detroit. And eight people were hurt yesterday when one of the engines of a Vueling Airlines Airbus A320 caught fire on the runway at Orly Airport in Paris.

I don't have an item to match up with that one. Pray if you got 'em…

Nobody asked me, but…

My new favorite blog: Slice, which covers good (and bad) pizza around the country. Of course, I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1960s, when all of the pizza was good and nobody selling it was named Ray.

This week's best $10.99 DVD: The Missiles of October, a fabulous 1974 made-for-TV docudrama about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The cast was outstanding, especially Howard DaSilva as Nikita Khrushchev. He'd just finished playing Ben Franklin on Broadway and in the movie version of 1776. I think that's what actors call "range."

Nobody asked me, but…

The Pittsburgh Hilton, one of my favorite big-tower-frozen-in-time-1960s-style hotels, is going through hard times. The current owner has been hit with a flurry of construction liens and the not-yet-completed exterior renovation is a conspicuous eyesore in downtown Pittsburgh. Things are so bad that the city is trying to figure out how to cloak the hotel or hide it behind a gigantic mural before the G-20 Summit meeting scheduled for late next month.

It looks like the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia won't become a Marriott-flagged property after all. Last spring, a self-made West Virginia multimillionaire improbably named Jim Justice outbid Marriott in bankruptcy court to buy the property. And last week he paid Marriott $7.5 million to go away after he couldn't cut a franchise or reservations-service deal with the chain. I don't know if it's a good deal for the Greenbrier, but it was probably the easiest $7.5 million Marriott ever made since its brief involvement with the resort was bankrolled by CSX Railroad, the blundering previous owners.

Nobody asked me, but…

A lot of people are up in arms about the U.S. Postal Service's plan to close hundreds of branches and possibly end Saturday mail delivery. But the facts are rather stark: Mail volume has declined by 20 billion pieces in the last three fiscal quarters and is expected to fall by another 15 billion pieces in fiscal 2010. I haven't written a letter or mailed a check in so long that I still have a supply of 41-cent stamps.

The $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan has plenty of critics and only history will know whether it had any positive impact. But this is worth considering: On the day the bill was signed (February 17), the Dow closed at 7552, the NASDAQ closed at 1470 and the S&P 500 was at 789. Today the Dow closed at 9256, NASDAQ finished at 1973 and the S&P was at 997. I'm not a genius, but six-month gains of 22.5, 34 and 26 percent are nothing to sneeze at.

Nobody asked me, but…

The price of a barrel of oil closed at $72 today. A lot of airlines haven't eliminated their fuel surcharges from last year, when oil was selling as high as $147 a barrel. Do you think they might try to surcharge the surcharge?

One more time for the folks who never took Economics 101: Demand drives the price of airline seats, not supply. The airlines have been slashing capacity on and off since 9/11 and they've been in serious contraction mode since Lehman Brothers tanked last September. But demand has fallen even faster than they've reduced supply, so fares have plummeted. If I had a dollar for every time some expert said fares would skyrocket as capacity fell, I'd be able to afford the price of a walk-up ticket.

Nobody asked me, but…

Don't look now, but the U.S. dollar hit its lowest levels of the year this week against the British pound and the euro. Not that $1.67 to the pound is awful, but it was $1.38 just a few months ago. And the dollar in the $1.40 range against the euro continues to be brutal.

Today was the 199th day in office for President Obama. We still don't have a TSA Administrator. Now that Bill Clinton's back from North Korea, maybe he could take the gig. Or maybe we could give it to Kim Jong Il. Those North Korean troops goosestep pretty good…

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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.