The Brancatelli File for 2017
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JOE
Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He is also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer magazine and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He began his career as a business reporter and created JoeSentMe.com in the dark days after 9/11 while stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in Cold Spring, New York.


November 30: OPEN SKIES AND LOST OPPORTUNITIES
It's hard not to feel that business travelers don't matter much to the airlines. If a decade ago they were trying and gallantly failing to launch business-oriented airlines, today they are fanatically focusing on penny-pinching flyers and stripping in-flight perks. And the imminent demise of OpenSkies, a once-promising boutique start-up, is proof of that very bad trend.

November 16: HONG KONG BY WAY OF LAGUARDIA AIRPORT
Flushing, hard by New York's LaGuardia Airport, is the closest thing to Hong Kong that I've ever experienced. The energy, the creativity, the English-language facade barely concealing a vibrant Chinese soul? That's Hong Kong. It is also Flushing. And it's all easily accessible when you book a LaGuardia "airport" hotel.

November 9: DEAD CAT BOUNCE IN INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
Any time you read about some lavish new upgrade in some airline's international first class cabin, just remember: dead cat bounce. First class cabins on international runs are dying. They may be leaving remarkably good-looking corpses, but they are, in the end, corpses.

November 2: WHY LONDON ALWAYS MATTERS TO AMERICANS
The combination of the high volume and the high yield between London and New York has always been a honeypot for the airlines. But it's wrong to suggest London will always matter solely because of the NyLon route. All transatlantic roads lead to London. In fact, eight of the ten busiest routes between the United States and Europe touch London.

October 26: DUMB (QUESTIONS) AND DUMBER (SECURITY) AT THE AIRPORT
Foiled in its misguided, anti-scientific attempt to force our laptops into the cargo hold, Homeland Security this week began harassing us with stupid questions before we can board an international flight. Better brush up on the air speed velocity of unladen swallows.

October 12: AIRPORT CLUB ACCESS IS ALWAYS A PRIORITY
The existential remake of Priority Pass, a program that most of us think of as an airport club access scheme, is remarkable because changes have been evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. Almost nothing about Priority Pass is what it was 20 years ago, yet it continues to be the single best weapon in a business traveler's arsenal.

October 5: NAKED NEWS
News you need to know: FEMA has purchased 800,000 hotel nights since Hurricane Harvey. American's CEO thinks airlines will never lose money again (seriously). The Trump Administration suddenly doesn't want to see anyone in court over the Travel Ban. The continuing battle over phone and laptop seizures at the border. And, oh yeah, another Arab airline buys into the Italian economy killing field.

September 28: THE DEATH OF THE HOTEL DESK
Why are hotels eliminating traditional desks and replacing them with ledges or nothing at all? Money, of course. If hotels make the rooms smaller, they save money. And if they make guestrooms unappealing to work in, guests are forced to work in the lobby, where hotels now try to sell you overpriced food and beverages.

September 21: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
How do you manage a top-level employee who busts the T&E budget? Why does Marriott have 30 lodging chains and very fancy Bloody Marys? What good's a fare war when the fees pile up? All these questions and more answered--plus plenty of snark about Kingsman, political blogs, eclipses and the best travel conspiracy theory ever.

September 19: TWO MORE HURRICANES AND AN EARTHQUAKE
If you thought Harvey and Irma were all this hurricane season had, think again. Believe it or not, it got worse. Hurricane Jose spun away from the Caribbean but caused flight disruptions in the Northeast. In about 24 hours, Maria grew from a tropical storm into a Category 5 Hurricane with winds as high as 175 miles per hour. And then a second earthquake in two weeks killed scores of people in the area around Mexico City. Here's what happened and how we covered it.

September 5: IRMA EXHAUSTS THE SUPERLATIVES
It would have been impossible to imagine just two weeks ago, but Hurricane Irma has been even more destructive than Hurricane Harvey. Even as Houstonians and other Texans struggled to cope with the aftermath of Harvey, Floridians battened down the hatches and evacuated. Irma hammered the entire state after leveling several Caribbean Islands. Then the storm, the biggest and most powerful cyclone ever recorded, moved on and pounded the South as a tropical storm. Here's what happened and how we covered it.

August 26: HARVEY IS A RAINMAKER. AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY.
Before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey arrived, it had been more than a decade since a major hurricane hit the mainland United States. And while the storm made landfall as a Category Four hurricane, it wasn't the wind that caused the worst damage. It was the rain, the endless, fast-falling rain that came in proverbial sheets. Airports in the region have closed for days and the two major airports in Houston--Intercontinental and Hobby--have struggled to continue operations. Here's what happened and how we've covered it.

August 24: WANT TO SAVE UNITED? BREAK IT UP AND PRAY
United Airlines is dead inside, killed by a generation of SkyGods who were always focused on anything but the carrier's success. United Airlines cannot be saved. The only solution is to break it into several smaller airlines. Not because that would guarantee success, but because several smaller, more nimble carriers might have a chance to develop a heart or a soul. Or even a reason to exist.

August 17: DUBLIN DINING CHEAT SHEET
Dublin dining is so trendy these days that the Eater.com Web site can effortlessly list 38 essential restaurants and not once mention any traditional establishments that comprise the backbone of good eating in the Irish capital. Business travelers tend not to have endless amounts of free time in Dublin to explore the latest and greatest, so I thought the following cheat sheet would offer a good perspective on the reliable favorites that never fail to impress visitors.

August 3: AIRLINES ARE RIGHT: FLYERS ARE STUPID
Do not be angry when airline executives claim passengers have voted with their wallets and have chosen cheap fares over comfortable seats. A new survey shows a vast majority of flyers won't even pay a little more to escape the middle seat in coach. So it turns out the airlines are right: Flyers are stupid.

July 27: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
There are people who hate United more than flyers. Are people in Starbucks to buy coffee or book last-minute hotel rooms? Smartphones have revolutionized business travel. Interesting decisions from Air France and Air India. Typical Hyatt Hotels inaction. Plus plenty of snark.

July 23: THE BIG LIE ABOUT HOTEL CANCELLATION FEES
Marriott and Hilton are imposing 48-hour cancellation restrictions on their rates. They claim fees will help us find rooms at the last minute. But with 30 percent of the nation's inventory empty on an average night and new hotels and lodging options in the pipeline, Marriott and Hilton's claims are a lie. The change to the stricter cancellation penalty is about revenue--and the chains' desire to make sure we don't shop for the lowest lodging rates.

July 13: LIFE ON THE ROAD TO PLANET ME
As I have said about a billion times before, business travel is an extraordinarily personal thing. Selfish even. Only what happens to us on the road really matters. And that, I think, is how it should be. The airlines and airports and hotel companies don't care about you, so who's gonna watch your back if not yourself?

June 29: SEVEN COLUMNS TO REVIEW FOR THE FOURTH OF JULY
I've written thousands of columns and stories and memos about the act of business travel. I'm also not a dummy. When you write as frequently as I do, readers' eyes tend to glaze over. You forget the important stuff that I've written to help explain the strange world in which we fly and live. So I have chosen seven columns to review for useful information while you're relaxing this long weekend.

June 22: GENOA GENUINELY DOESN'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK
The fourth or fifth time you get lost trying to find a new hotel just 500 feet from where you stand you will have to decide whether you love or hate Genoa. I decided to love it--although I must warn you that Genoa really doesn't give a damn what you think about it. It toddles along in its hermetically sealed way, mostly unvisited by the tourist hordes that have picked apart every other square inch of Italy. That's probably why you should visit.

June 15: THE CLOUD, THE ROAD AND THE CHROMEBOOK
Homeland Security Secretary Kelly keeps insisting that he may soon ban large electronics in-flight. So I tried to beat the rush and purchased a $130 Chromebook. After several weeks of beating on it on the road, I'm surprised by what it can do. And its quirks. By and large, though, it's a surprisingly good "burner" device for what may soon be the newest new normal.

June 8: BREAKING MY UNBREAKABLE RULES OF BUSINESS TRAVEL
Every smart business traveler has unbreakable rules of the road. If we have learned nothing else over the years, we know these rules cannot be changed, altered or ignored lest we suffer the most dire consequences. So here I am on a flight back from Paris/CDG having broken any number of my most inviolate road rules. I have survived. Mostly ...

May 27: BA MELTS DOWN AND PASSENGERS GO NOWHERE
Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial first weekend of summer, arrived just in time for the first British Airways meltdown of summer. Since it was also a bank holiday weekend in the United Kingdom, BA's computer problems--the airline blamed a "power failure"--played havoc with flyers headed to and from Europe and destinations around the world. BA's response to its woes? A shrug of the corporate shoulder and a reminder to customers that there just isn't much they can do when a major airline goes off the metaphoric rails.

May 25: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
Musings on the true nature of airlines, the kinds of questions you ask me, the need to buy a "burner" laptop and much more. Plus plenty of snark about travel TV commercials, body-slamming reporters and nasty new Amex policies. And now I am now old enough to rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight.

May 18: THE PASSPORT REPORT THAT I CAN'T READ
Three weeks ago, I realized that a trip I planned for the end of the month would require me to transit a country that required my passport to be valid for six months. Mine only had four months to run. That put me in bureaucratic no-man's land: Too far out to get a personal appointment, too close in to rely on mail-in solutions. Or so I thought. You may be encouraged by what happened next.

May 11: WHERE TO STAY IN DUBLIN NOW
Dublin is not an inexpensive place to put your head on a bed. The good news? There are several fabulous choices, including some top-notch hotels that can be claimed with your frequent guest points.

May 4: THE FLYING HELL WE OWN
American Airlines confirmed this week that its newest jets will have just 30 inches of seat pitch and as little as 29 inches at many rows. Just 17 years ago, American pulled thousands of seats from its jets to offer as much as 36 inches in standard coach. The nasty part is that we know United and Delta and the others will inevitably follow suit. But we keep flying so we own this. Not the airlines. Us.

April 27: ELLA! LIVE! IN-FLIGHT!
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song. But almost forgotten is an astonishing fact: Ella once performed two live shows on a 1983 Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Los Angeles. In an era when airlines take things away from us, here's the story of how some lucky passengers were treated to Ella live in-flight.

April 20: ALT-EUROPE FOR DISCOUNTS
While coach class fares to Europe have plunged, business class prices haven't. So what do you do if you want a bargain up front across the pond? Look at the alternate European carriers, an odd mix of low-fare start-ups, the traditional second-tier airlines, fifth-freedom operators and a couple of oddball specialists. Full details--and a massive chart of options.

April 13: BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE WHERE AIRLINES BEAT US WITH ROCKS
This week's epic collapse proves that Delta is, in fact, worse than just about anyone at service recovery. By running a "just in time" operation that pushes people and planes to the red line, it can't recover when it guesses wrong on the weather. Its bluster--that it is better, so it need not backstop its resources with industry-standard cooperation--has worsened the problem.

April 9: DELTA: DEFLECT. DENY. LIE. THEN CANCEL AND DELAY.
This week's epic collapse proves that Delta is, in fact, worse than just about anyone at service recovery. By running a "just in time" operation that pushes people and planes to the red line, it can't recover when it guesses wrong on the weather. Its bluster--that it is better, so it need not backstop its resources with industry-standard cooperation--has worsened the problem.

April 6: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
United continues to be hopeless, American is bailing on a route it has flown for decades and downsizing another hub. The electronics ban may get even sillier. And, oh, yeah, get ready to be "extreme vetted" when you travel overseas in retaliation for how Homeland Security wants to treat visitors to the United States. In other words, just another week on the road.

March 30: EVERY AIRLINE FOR ITSELF
We long ago established that airlines aren't loyal to us, not even within the constructs of what were once laughably called loyalty plans. But who knew the airlines aren't even capable of being loyal to each other? They are deconstructing the global alliances they spent decades building and urging us to use.

March 23: WORKING AROUND OUR ELECTRONICS DOUBLE INDEMNITY
How dangerous is the electronics ban imposed this week by Homeland Security? As Barton Keyes, the canny insurance investigator in Double Indemnity, once said in another context, "It's not twice as safe. It's ten times twice as dangerous." I have ten practical workarounds that will allow you to stay entertained and keep productive if you're flying from the affected nations.

March 21: A WEEK OF CRAZY FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
It's been an interesting week for business travelers. Homeland Security's snap decision to impose an in-flight electronics ban is playing havoc with flyers who must travel from or transit through the Middle East. The British--but only the Brits--added a slightly different ban. Then there was an apparent terrorist incident in the heart of London. And, oh yeah, Trump Travel Ban 2.0 is still being litigated.

March 16: BUDGETS AND BANS AND POLITICS, OH MY!
Once more, this is about travel and politics because Trump Travel Ban 2.0 got whacked in the courts and the Trump Administration unveiled Budget 1.0 and there are several travel twists. The proposed Transportation Department cuts include fundamentally sound deletions that might nevertheless be politically troublesome. And it turns out the most implacable foe of President Trump's executive orders on travel is Donald Trump, presidential candidate.

March 12: STELL-AAAAAH!
We have all gotten used to predictions of the "storm of the century." This one, named Stella by the rating-whores at The Weather Channel, may not have been the worst ever, but it's been bad enough. Especially since it was a mid-February kind of bruiser, a nasty surprise that came in mid-March. Thousands of flights were cancelled from Chicago to the East Coast and from Washington north to New England. Here's how we covered it.

March 9: OUR LETTERS OF TRANSIT ARE BEING QUESTIONED
President Trump signed a new travel order, Europeans threatened our right to visa-free travel and our own government revived the spectre of exit controls before international flights. It's been a week packed with overlapping political agendas, awkward travel theatrics and technological and financial insufficiency. The actions and motives of Presidents from Clinton to Trump have been regurgitated. Here's what it all means for us.

March 2: NONE SHALL PASS
As someone who lived it, I can tell you that you don't argue with Customs agents when they do the None-Shall-Pass Black Knight bit at your aircraft's door. International flight or domestic, legal or not, if they ask for your papers, there's no maybe about it. There's no voluntary about it. They will fart in your general direction and taunt you a second time if you refuse even when the agents are wrongly IDing a domestic flight. And, yes, it's a dangerous abuse of government authority.

February 23: MAY I REMIND YOU ...
You're busy. The news moves fast. You can't remember everything or read everything. So allow me to remind you of some important stuff that seems to be tripping you up on the road. That includes the state of LaGuardia Airport, the two-ticket rule at Oneworld, the fake news about REAL ID, Verizon's secret SIM slots and American's new boarding order.

February 16: I LIVE TO SERVE: YOUR QUESTIONS, MY ANSWERS
Travel is essentially a selfish endeavor. Whether it's leisure or business, travelers only care about their own needs. I try to remember that basic lesson as I put together this Web site in general and this column in particular. So this week, answers to your questions about "urban" resort fees, the relative value of Delta and America miles and the kinda-sorta new United business class. Plus, an interactive exercise in travel and politics.

February 16: TURKEY, TRAVEL, TURKISH AIRLINES--AND POLITICS
What's behind the collapse in traffic at Turkish Airlines and its hub at Istanbul Ataturk Airport? Raw, naked politics--the kind of the raw, naked politics that make it impossible to view travel in a bubble.

February 9: MY ROME DINING CHEAT SHEET
Because I get to Rome frequently, folks naturally ask me for dining tips. I am happy to oblige, of course, but there is a problem: My list is getting as thick as a phone book. Instead, permit me to offer a cheat sheet for a few days in the Eternal City, which, by the way, does not have an eternal dining scene.

February 2: TRAVEL IS POLITICS. WE COVER IT. GET OVER IT.
Nobody at JoeSentMe.com makes any money from this. We are volunteers. We do it because we want to write about travel intelligently. To speak truth to power without worrying about pressure from advertisers. Or politicians. Or political fanboys. When Trump does dumb stuff and it affects travel, I'll call him on it. Just like we called out Obama and Bush when they did dumb stuff. And right now Trump is making our lives on the road miserable.

January 30: STRANGE DAYS INDEED
Late January and early February usually are among the slowest weeks of the year for travel, both business and leisure. Except for the odd blizzard, not much happens. This year? Strange days indeed. Yes, we got a requisite blizzard in the Northeast. But we also got computer meltdowns at United and Delta airlines that ground flights to a halt. And a week into his presidency, Donald J. Trump made good on a campaign promise and imposed a temporary ban on immigration and travel by people in seven nations. Federal courts promptly stayed all or parts of the President's executive order--and, of course, that sent him into a frenzy of tweets, recriminations and threats. Here is how we've been trying to cover it all.

January 26: GREECING THE WHEELS OF AIRLINE COMPETITION
Emirates this week announced a year-round nonstop between Newark and Athens and the big news is how little controversy surrounds the route. Gulf carriers have run into a competitive wall, which has slowed them much more effectively than the phony protectionism espoused by competition-adverse U.S. airlines. It's a lesson for us all.

January 19: LESS FOR THEM IS STILL NOT MORE FOR US
Now that all three legacy airlines have instituted Basic Economy fares, we know the truth. The fares aren't cheaper, just repackaged and stripped of basic functionality. And once again we know: Less for them is not more for us. The airlines once again remind us how much they despise customers, even the most frequent ones.

January 12: THE DEATH OF TRAVEL LOYALTY
It doesn't take a genius to know that travel loyalty is dead. Airlines and hotels have so bastardized and diluted frequency plans that the only winning move is not to play. There is another system, a better way for frequent travelers. Time to do what's good for us, not the travel industry.

January 8: A LONG WEEK AHEAD ON THE ROAD
I wanted to update you on conditions for travel this evening and next week, which is shaping up as rough. Plus some factual points on Friday's massacre at Fort Lauderdale Airport.

January 5: WHAT I WON'T CARE ABOUT ON THE ROAD IN 2017
You know why new years suck? Because travel talking heads make ludicrous predictions about the year ahead, compile lists of the coming "big stories" or make believe every airline or hotel CEO has something relevant to predict. You won't get that from me. Instead, I'll you what I don't care about: Things like lying airline CEOS, self-aggrandizing hotel executives and stupid stuff done "out of an abundance of caution."

These columns originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

Copyright 1993-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.