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WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
By Joe Brancatelli
August 20, 2009 -- This has been a surprisingly busy August by the usually languorous standards of business travel. Still, I think this is a perfect week to reflect on what has gone before. Or, to be more specific, to revisit columns whose topics have been the stuff of your questions to me in the past few weeks.

This will not be a road trip down memory lane, however. We may have all been here before, as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young once sang. But, for better or worse, we're all here again.

THE NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE
Just this morning several of you E-mailed me about the release of the sole person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988 over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland. And it reminded me that I wrote about his conviction in January, 2001, in a column I ironically titled A Funny Kind of Closure. And all I can think about now is: What happens after we thought we had closure? The release of this man, on supposedly humanitarian grounds due to his supposedly terminal cancer, is supposedly a sop to Libya, a supposedly former terrorist state whose oil wealth now apparently outweighs justice for the 270 victims of the midair bombing. Twenty years after Lockerbie, though, nothing seems particularly clear. If this convicted man were truly guilty, he was surely not alone. So "justice" was never really well-served in that bizarre Lockerbie trial. And it's amazing how little has changed, except that the bandage over the still-unhealed wound of Lockerbie was ripped open again today. There may never be any closure, funny or otherwise.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO CRY
In last week's column about airlines holding us hostage on long-delayed flights and the uselessness of the proposed "passenger's bill of rights," I suggested one solution was to sue airlines in small-claims courts. Last year, the Department of Transportation made tarmac-hold issues fodder for local courts and that opens the door for individual passengers to sue in the passenger-friendly small-claims venues. Some readers wondered how to do it and whether I had any tips to offer. Indeed I have and I wrote about how to sue the airlines several years back. It's still valid now. And here's a link to state-by-state details about the small-claims process.

AWAY FROM THIS FOREIGN LAND
Maybe it's a tiny sign of a pickup in international travel--or it's just JoeSentMe members taking advantage of the insane business-class deals that the airlines have been forced to post. Either way, several of you recently inquired about passport expeditors. These services, which charge for getting you your passport and visas in a hurry, are exactly the kinds of things that generally pass the business travelers' time-value test. Sure, they seem expensive, but when you consider the value of your time, well… My most recent column on the expeditors is here.

AFTER THE GOLD RUSH
Speaking of passports and visas, a lot of you have contacted me with the basic question: How do I get a cheap business-class ticket to X?" With X being anywhere from Moscow to Marrakech to Mumbai. I'm more than happy to field those requests because it helps me keep current with fares I might not otherwise check. But, honest, folks, do-it-yourself business-class discounts are easier than ever to get now that airlines are hemorrhaging business-class travelers and discounting like maniacs. Here's the link to my semi-annual primer on how to do it. And to give you an idea of how the market--if not the processes--have changed, consider this: Last year's column pegged the 21-day advance-purchase business-class fare to London at about $3,700. Now it's about $2,500 roundtrip.

LIVING A REALITY WE LEFT YEARS AGO
Speaking of the meltdown in business-class travel--the airline trade group IATA reported this week that premium-class international travel fell 21 percent in June--I guess that last year's column, A Run on the Bankers, was spot on. Who knew there were that many horny bankers out there?

TELL ME WHY
I get these questions, literally, every day: Don't the Big Six get it? Don't they understand that they are destroying themselves? Simple answer: Nope. They are clueless. Longer answers: In Burning Down the House, published just weeks after 9/11, I expressed the opinion that the supposed full-service model as pursued by the Big Six was irretrievably broken. Eight years has only brought that contention into much clearer focus for more of the business-traveling public. And in one of my personal favorites, The Big Six and the Lesson of the Big Stores, I explained how the supposedly full-service airlines were going the way of the nation's once-great department stores. Once Delta finishes off Northwest in the merger, we'll officially be down to the Big Five. And the way US Airways, United, American and Continental are shrinking, it won't be long before more of these dinosaurs will go the way of The Broadway, Bullock's, Jordan Marsh and all those storied big-store names of the past.

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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.