The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Nobody Asked Me, But ...
Thursday, February 22, 2018 -- Nobody asked me, but ...

In the race to the bottom, American Airlines may be edging ahead of United Airlines. Although it hasn't had the attention-grabbing screw-ups of United, American's day-to-day customer experience has degraded rapidly. It continues to pioneer kneecapping seats in coach and now word leaks that it may reduce the number of business class seats on international flights. American also announced that it will increase the number of nonstops to Hell from all its hubs. (Okay, I made that last part up.)

And, oh, American does not want to give you any of their crappy seats as awards, either. According to American's latest 10-K filing, only 6.1 percent of its seats in 2017 were claimed via AAdvantage. That's down from 6.3 percent in 2016 and 6.5 percent in 2015. It compares unfavorably to the 8-9 percent claim rate before the US Airways crew took control in the reverse merger. Meanwhile, 13.8 percent of Southwest Airlines' capacity was dispersed in 2017 via Rapid Rewards.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Guestooms in the new Holiday Inn Express at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport "feature wide beds with noise-absorbing headboards, bed-side built-in USB ports [and] p lasma screens that can be connected to personal media devices." The hotel explains that "rooms are inspired by business class seats on airplanes, creating a unique working space and combining it with a traditional relaxation zone." Bozhe moi, as the Russians say.

You know those slick, sometimes funny Priceline.com television ads featuring William Shatner and, lately, Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory? They apparently don't work as well as the much more anonymous ads for Booking.com, which stylize the site as Booking-dot-yeah. According to the company that owns both sites--and Kayak, Agoda, Rentalcars.com and OpenTable--Booking.com is now its largest brand. So the Connecticut-based firm will change its corporate name from Priceline to Booking Holdings.

Nobody asked me, but ...

This vintage Fiat 500 (left) didn't move the entire time I was domiciled next door in Rome for a few days. It's not important, of course, but it's why I love coming to Italy. Things just happen--or they don't--and all you can do is shrug and have another espresso ...

One of the things they are not talking about in Rome--or in Genoa, where I am now--is Qatar Airways' decision to rebrand Meridiana as Air Italy. Qatar Air is repositioning the one-time Alisarda, created by the Aga Khan to fly Italians to his Sardinian resorts, as competition to Alitalia, the chronically wounded flag carrier. Alitalia, of course, sucked billions of dollars out of Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. Apparently, Qatar Airways wants to be the next Middle Eastern sucker.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Wayne LaPierre, the hideous boss of the NRA, wants to arm more teachers and militarize schools. Let me tell you about that. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school in Brooklyn and it shared public playground space with a city-owned high school. One day this burly Southern good ol' boy, a math teacher named Brother Russell, decided he didn't like interactions between "his" students and the "trash" from the city school (uh, black kids). So he went to the roof with a rifle he hid under his cassock and fired off a few rounds in the direction of the playground. Thankfully, the cops arrived and sent ol' Brother Russell to a loony bin.

Besides, whenever anyone wants to talk to me about guns or gun control or the NRA, I just point them in the direction of this clip from The Simpsons. Krusty the Clown makes more sense than ol' Brother Russell or the hideous Wayne LaPierre.

Nobody asked me, but ...

When Alaska Airlines began integrating Virgin America last year, it eschewed lie-flat beds on both transcon fleets. The stated reason? Alaska customers liked free, frequent upgrades to first class cradle seats more than paying for lie-flat beds. But Delta Air Lines recently announced that several of its transcon flights to/from Seattle, Alaska's hometown hub, will offer Delta One and lie-flat beds. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how the competition develops.

Meanwhile, Alaska Air is quietly dropping several former Virgin America routes, including the LAX-Orlando and San Francisco-Fort Lauderdale transcon runs. Hmm...

Nobody asked me, but ...

Google Maps is the single greatest advance in business travel in the modern era. Discuss. Of course, "modern era" is a fraught term, especially for me. Today is the first day that I can pick a Medicare plan. That means I'm just three months from being a certified senior citizen, as Mose Allison once sang.

Nobody asked me, but ...

I don't think I've watched five minutes of the Winter Olympics from South Korea. But on the Norwegian Air Shuttle flight over, I caught a few episodes of Lilyhammer, a black, bizarre and hilarious mash-up of Scandinavian crime shows and The Sopranos. It even stars Steven Van Zandt as an on-the-lam version of his Sopranos character. I love the idea of a Mafioso in witness protection in Norway. I mean, that's just funny--and I tell you this because the last Winter Olympics I liked was the 1994 version from Lillehammer, Norway.

I will have more to say about Norwegian in the weeks ahead, but I was fascinated by how many families, some with young children, were booked in Premium class. What amazed me was how well-behaved the children were. Inevitable conclusion: Even kids are happy when you give them enough room to feel human.

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