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NONSTOP TO THE FIRE SWAMP
By Joe Brancatelli
January 24, 2013 -- My flight from Florin City to Guilder this week was delayed for hours and there's nothing quite like sitting in the Florin airport lounge thinking about life in the fire swamp.

As I was sipping from my glass of wine and wondering whether it was laced with Iocane powder, I came across these tales that I thought you should not miss. I admit they might not change your life on the road, but they do have fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, True Love ... and miracles.

Well, no miracles now that I think about it, but, you know, business travel is like that. Miracles have been outlawed by the king's stinking son.

ONLY MOSTLY (BRAIN) DEAD
This one strikes me as absolutely hilarious: A passenger was hassled on a recent Qantas flight because he was wearing a clever shirt referencing The Princess Bride, the now-classic 1987 fantasy flick. As explained here, he was wearing a T-shirt that quotes the swordsman Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin. After spending the entire film looking for the six-fingered man who murdered his father, Inigo finds the gent and introduces himself: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Apparently, some mostly (brain) dead fellow passenger thought the shirt itself was threatening and some mostly (brain) dead crew members felt compelled to give credence to the offended flyer's idiocy. I think the offended passenger should be subjected to a punishment conceived by Miracle Max (Billy Crystal): "Why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?"

IS VIZZINI RUNNING UNITED AIRLINES?
Remember the scheming Sicilian Vizzini, played by the wonderful Wallace Shawn? Vizzini thought he was the smartest guy around, yet his plans continued to fail and he invariably uttered "Inconceivable!" That finally led the less-than-brilliant Montoya to comment: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I'm beginning to think the fools who run United Airlines are modern-day Vizzinis. The carrier reported yet another disastrous quarter today and both chairman and chief executive Jeff Smisek and vice chairman and chief revenue officer Jim Compton continued to utter their versions of "Inconceivable!" Bleated Smisek: "With much of our integration behind us, we can now go forward as one company." Bellowed Compton: "While we didn't meet our revenue goals in 2012, we have addressed the integration issues that drove our underperformance." Of course, they've said the same thing in every earnings report since the airline's brutally botched computer cut-over last March. As Montoya might observe: I do not think either Smisek or Compton understand what they are saying, how badly the airline continues to run and how fundamentally they have alienated customers, the most profitable of whom long ago defected to other carriers.

AND IS COUNT RUGEN RUNNING HEATHROW?
The new year started badly at some of Europe's airports, including London/Heathrow, Paris/DeGaulle and Frankfurt, the continent's three busiest hubs. A few inches of snow once again paralyzed them, led to hundreds of cancellations, thousands of delays and tens of thousands of grounded flyers. As usual, however, it was Heathrow that ran the worst, inconvenienced the most passengers and led to the least-believable excuses from airport authorities. While Gatwick and Stansted airports ran mostly without incident, Heathrow was a snowy morass of backed-up aircraft and infuriated flyers. And considering that Heathrow was grounded for days two years ago because of an inch of snow, you'd have thought the airport would have learned its lesson. But, no. The same-old, same-old played out once again, with passengers sleeping in chairs and on the floors and airport executives talking about how anything and everything was beyond their control. Then, after laughing at London mayor Boris Johnson's bumptious observations about the coming of a new ice age in the British capital, it occurred to me that Heathrow officials are much like Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), the cowardly freak who invented a torture rack. "It took me half a lifetime to invent" it, Rugen explained. "I'm sure you've discovered my deep and abiding interest in pain." Isn't that what most of us think of Heathrow these days?

SAY MAN AND WIFE
No column riffing off The Princess Bride would be complete without a reference to The Impressive Clergyman played by Peter Cook using his Upper-Class-Twit-of-the-Year accent. He prattles on as Prince Humperdinck is desperately trying to marry Buttercup before the arrival of retribution in the form of the Man in Black (aka Westley and the Dread Pirate Roberts). "Man and wife!" demands the impatient Humperdinck. "Say man and wife!" That's pretty much all you can think of as you read this piece in the Chicago Business Journal. LOT Polish Airlines was desperately trying to get its inaugural Chicago-Warsaw flight in the air last Wednesday before the FAA shut down the Dreamliner 787.

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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 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.