The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
What I Learned on the Road This Year
Thursday, December 13, 2018 -- Whenever another year on the road ends--and I've got just one more hotel night this year--I convince myself that it's been a good year on the road if I've learned stuff.

I admit that logic is fraying a bit as airlines and hotel chains work so very hard to hit us with the same old same old of disrespect and a money-grubbing mantra of charging us a lot more for delivering a lot less.

Still, I continue to learn things on the road. That's gotta be worth something. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. And for the rest of my life. No, wait, that's Casablanca ...

Anyway, before I get on that flight--honest, I will get to Lisbon next year--here's what I learned on the road in 2018.

The writing has been on the airport monitors for years. Airlines and hotels pay lip service to elite status, but they don't care about it, they no longer reward it and, in fact, they think we're sheep ripe for the shearing if we continue to chase it. Need proof? Just this week in Tactical Traveler you can read about Delta inventing a new way to sell upgrades rather than give them to us and United charging for slightly less crappy seats in coach.

How to respond? Just don't play. You can get almost all the perks of lower-level elite status offered by airlines and hotel chains by taking their respective credit cards. Those cards rarely charge more than $100 in annual fees, much less than you'd pay to chase those lower rungs of status. Want the upgrades and the club access and the lie-flat beds? Buy 'em when you need 'em. You're better off long cash and short points and miles anyway. After all, if you pay it forward and get to the top rung of status, the airlines only pull the ladder out from under you with another devaluation.

I haven't accepted wheels on my bags, so I admit to being a curmudgeon on the topic. But I have proof that trendy doesn't work in luggage. Case in point: Bluesmart, the "smart luggage" with a built-in battery and its own app. The company raised millions on Indiegogo in 2014. Its first bags shipped in 2016 and it became an Internet sensation. But it went belly up this year because airlines banned bags with lithium-ion batteries. And remember Road Warrior Luggage? Its claim to fame was that it was collapsible, a full-sized rolling bag that telescoped down to just six inches. It was all anyone was talking about six years ago. Now the company doesn't even exist.

Singapore Airlines' ultra-long-haul flights--those 18-hour nonstop marathons relaunched this year--just aren't selling. I first became a business traveler when nonstops to Tokyo were considered marathons because they were 14 hours long. Now we do 16 hours without thinking. And who wants to give up the convenience of a nonstop to a destination that once required a plane change. But Singapore Airlines couldn't make these fights work during the nearly 10 years (2004-2013) it first tried them. Initial indications are that they won't work this time, either, especially since the flights lack the super-profitable first class cabin and the ballast of coach flyers filling the back of the tube.

In my humble opinion, Google Maps is the greatest improvement in business travel ever. I mean, nobody gets lost anymore. The most obscure cul-de-sac and out-of-the-way office park is now a snap to find. No wasted hours, no wasted energy and no blown appointments. It's a miracle and it's there on our phones and it costs nothing. So what's wrong with Google Maps? Nobody gets lost anymore. I kinda miss that. The kismet is gone. The serendipity of wandering aimlessly down a street in a strange town and finding something wonderful is gone. In a strange and peculiar way, Google Maps is just one more thing that makes our lives on the road dull, regimented and uninspired.

When I bought a new smartphone this year, I finally went all in with Google. I linked all my devices and stayed signed in to my Gmail account. And even before Phil Baker wrote his jeremiad this week I was feeling tracked and spied upon. It's one thing to have the same ad follow you from computer to laptop to phone. It's still another to get the "follow up" E-mail after you have abandoned a hotel reservation. But, man, it's creepy to know that some government may one day replace the tech firms and target you with a personal nuclear device. I'm sure I'll be able to track it on Google Maps as it hunts me down and explodes me.

Speaking of Casablanca, have you ever wondered why Rick would send Ilsa and Laslo to Lisbon on an Air France flight? Why would Air France be flying from Casablanca to Lisbon in the middle of a war? I've seen Casablanca dozens of times and it never occurred to me to wonder about that cinematic aeronautical anomaly. This year, though, I did wonder and I tracked down an answer: When Germany invaded France in 1940, Air France hightailed it to Morocco. Moved the planes and the entire enterprise from Paris to Morocco. It flew throughout the war from a temporary hub in ... Casablanca.

But like so much of life on the road, what you see in Casablanca is fake. The "plane" with the classic Air France seahorse logo was a cardboard model. The "airport" scenes were shot on the Warner Bros. lot. The fog was provided by machines. And the establishing shots of those iconic white airport buildings were filmed at Van Nuys Airport.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. 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.