The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Travel Is a Waste of Time
Thursday, March 8, 2018 -- It struck me three weeks ago as I sat in a dreary lounge before security in Newark's Terminal B.

It occurred to me again about 12 hours later as I stood in an unruly line that seemed to snake miles from Rome Fiumicino Airport's passport-control booths.

I thought about it last week as I sat on a cold, hard bench in Bologna Centrale Station waiting for a train that the signboard said would be 20 minutes, then 30, then 45, then 65 and finally 100 minutes late.

It was surely on my mind Tuesday afternoon back at Fiumicino as I watched a flummoxed Italian security officer deconstruct my carry-on bag, carefully packed pocket by carefully packed pocket, cable by cable, adapter by adapter and file folder by file folder.

And it was about the only thing I was thinking about Tuesday night back at Newark as I watched a baggage carousel grind and wheeze minute after minute after minute with just a single piece of luggage while an airport apparatchik repeatedly yelled into a mobile phone: "Hey, Ethiopian, I got your bag here and it doesn't belong here."

Travel, my friends, is a waste of time. Literally.

The entire damned process seems designed to make our lives less efficient, less convenient, less sensible, less fun and, yes, less interesting. Travel is a schedule-busting, soul-crushing, spirit-killing, life-sapping waste of time.

Don't get me wrong. We business travelers deal with everything that the travel industry--and the government--throws at us. And we deal with it with our customary bravado. We make believe we've seen it all, done it all, understand it all, transcend it all. We have to. Business travel is how we make our living, provide for our family and make our companies and clients strong. And I have often said how much I've learned about life by living a life on the road.

But this "leisure travel" thing? It really seems like a waste of time.

As I mentioned a month ago, I planned my first honest-to-goodness, mostly-a-vacation trip for mid-February. I kept doing JoeSentMe, of course, and some other stuff. But, mostly, it was a holiday. And things went off the metaphoric and literal rails almost immediately.

Given that I was flying Norwegian Air for the first time--more on that in weeks to come--I wanted to make sure I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Just in case things went south and I had to vamp my way to Italy.

The problem? Newark Terminal B is where business travelers go to die when they take a holiday. For premium class flyers, Norwegian uses the awful, awful, awful (Did I say it was awful?) Art & Lounge club. It's tiny, it's crowded, it's creepy, the food is dreadful and, worst of all, it's the only option. Restaurants in Terminal B also stink. And like I say, it's pre-security, which means you can't comfortably use your time because you're always worried about the TSA's quirks.

But I'd mostly forgotten about Art & Lounge after I disembarked in Rome and ran smack into a passport-control line so circuitous that you could have had a long, leisurely Italian lunch while you waited. In fact, a JoeSentMe member told me later he was in the very same line, about 15 minutes behind me. We agreed the wait was well north of an hour.

The rest of the trip went about the same way. Snow, cold and rain in Italy made the trains a nightmare with endless waits punctuated by the groans and hand gestures of unhappy Italians. And I won't even tell you the tale of Track 18 at Rome Termini station, which shares the same track and the same platform as Track 17, yet inexplicably begins where the Italian railroad authorities arbitrarily decide Track 17 ends.

Because I don't want to waste your time, let's skip ahead to departure day, which was this past Tuesday.

Rome has few chain hotels, so I was without status in an otherwise lovely and newish property. In other words, my noon checkout time was not sitting well with my 5:20 p.m. flight departure. But since it was pouring down with rain in Rome, what the hell, I figured. I'll just go to the airport and work in the club.

Herein lies the part of this tale we might as well call the "no good deed goes unpunished" segment.

Remember a few months back when our food maven, Ralph Raffio, appealed to JoeSentMe members headed to Bologna? Since no member could answer the call, I went to Bologna myself to get him his pasta die. Easy-peasy. It was a small disc of brass and it fit effortlessly in an internal pocket of my carry-on bag.

After wasting time waiting--I dunno, 15 or maybe 30 minutes--for Norwegian Air to open its check-in counter, I proceeded through its Fast Track corridor to Italian security. I shed my damp trench coat--Did I mention it rained and snowed for most of the 19 days?--removed my laptop and breezed through security.

Well, almost.

As I was retrieving my damp trench coat, I was approached by a confused-looking Italian security official. He inquired (in Italian) about my carry-on, requested that I follow him to a side table and asked if it was possible to look through my bag.

What followed was a time-burning, bilingual pantomime of epic asininity. Out came each item in my computer bag--power brick, power cable, printer cable, adapters, plug convertors, USB cords, you name it. He scrutinized each mundane item as if he was seeing it for the first time. Then he went after the internal pockets of my Glaser Designs Transaction Bag.

Tin of mints. Back-up mobile phone. Office-supplies kit. Business cards.

About this time, I realized the mild-mannered fellow had been removing the items and holding them up so the woman at the computer monitor behind the x-ray machine could see them. Each item of mine held aloft elicited a shake of the head from her. She finally shouted (in Italian, of course), "I told you not the glasses case," when he held up my second back-up pair. Then he started on file folders.

Finally, with all items stripped from my bag, he took it and the contents, dumped them into separate plastic bins and ran the deconstructed detritus of my life through the x-ray machine again.

Still he was unhappy. He went back into the empty bag and, victoriously, fished the pasta die from a pocket he'd apparently missed.

What is this, he asked in Italian. A pasta die, I answered in Italian. For a torchietto di Leo. He seemed not to understand. My Italian or my explanation. So I tried again. It's for a pasta maker, I explained.

He was sure we were miscommunicating somehow, but he gingerly carried the die to the woman by the x-ray machine. I heard him say una macchina per la pasta and she shook her head. We had finally identified the item that confused her x-ray scans.

There went another 45 minutes of my life. All I wanted to do was get to the club and reassemble my carry-on before the flight. But the club was closed for renovation. So all the remaining pre-flight time was wasted watching a pair of waiters argue at a mediocre airport restaurant. (I couldn't work because they'd commandeered the sit-down bar area with power plugs as their supplies and logistics station.)

I thought about all this at Newark as I watched the bag wrongly diverted from Ethiopian Airlines go round and round and round and round our otherwise empty baggage carousel.

When my bag finally came up--Hey, 19 days, even you'd check one!--I found redemption. Using Global Entry, I bypassed the scrum at U.S. customs and immigration and was out on the street in a flash.

That's when it hit me, I think. We bring all this time-wasting upon ourselves.

We put up with substandard clubs. We allow hotels to sell us less-than-24-hour days. We allow airlines (even budget ones like Norwegian) to renege on their promises and ignore schedules. We let airports and train stations become wayports of the damned. We let governments mess with our heads and our possessions just because they can. And we've allowed fear of bad guys to kill useful options like remote luggage check-in and home delivery services.

We pay for all this slovenly stupidity with time, our most valuable and irreplaceable possession.

Travel is a waste of time. But it shouldn't be. It needn't be. And we shouldn't allow it to be.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.