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 The Brancatelli File

joe CASTING MY VOTE
FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL '98


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

October 29, 1998 -- With Election Day just hours away, I felt it was important to weigh in with my votes on the great issues of the day.

No, no, don't surf away. I'm not talking politics. I promise. The great issues I'm voting on are the ones that matter to us business travelers. So step inside my metaphorical voting booth and see how I'm casting my ballot on Business Travel 1998.

My vote for "most honest comment" of the year? Now-retired American Airlines chief executive Bob Crandall assessing his decision to forge a marketing alliance with US Airways. "The companies would be better off," Crandall said, but consumers could only expect "some incremental benefits."

My vote for "most dishonest comment" of the year? Northwest Airlines labor negotiator Richard Hirst assessing the decision of Northwest pilots to strike after working on an expired contract for almost two years. "I think they have been following a strike strategy all along," he said.

My vote for "best new idea" of the year? Nonstop flights between New York and Hong Kong, which Cathay Pacific tested in conjunction with the opening of the new airport in the former British colony.

My vote for "worst new idea" of the year? The Department of Transportation's proposal to create "peanut-free" rows on flights to accommodate passengers with peanut allergies.

My vote for "worst airport opening" of the year? A stunning three-way tie between the new airports in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur and the revamped Malpensa in Milan. All were plagued by delayed flights, grumpy technology, chaotic service and incomplete transport links.

My vote for "best airport opening" of the year? Gardermoen in Oslo. Phased in earlier this month after 90 days of limited service, Gardermoen replaced aging Fornebu with nary a hitch.

My vote for "least credible statistic" of the year? The new monthly fare index from the Air Transport Association, the airline lobbying group. It reported that the average U.S. one-way coach fare through August was $135.55 for a 1,000-mile trip.

My vote for "most credible statistic" of the year? The Transportation Department's seventh Quarterly Airfare Report, which covered the first quarter of 1998. It reported that Northwest's average one-way fare between Cleveland and Detroit was $191 for the 95-mile flight.

My vote for "best travel-technology trend" of the year? AT&T's Digital OneRate plan, which priced domestic wireless-phone calls as low as 11 cents a minute and eliminated land-line, roaming and long-distance surcharges.

My vote for "worst travel-technology trend" of the year? The continued refusal of the airlines to live up to their promises of at-seat "power points." Eighteen months after the first installations, finding a seat wired with an in-flight power charger is rarer than getting a $135 fare for a 1,000-mile flight.

My vote for "best service idea" of the year? Delta Air Lines' decision to dump its year-old first- and business-class cabins and switch to a new premium business-class up front.

My vote for "worst service idea" of the year? The decision of all the carriers to drop advance-boarding passes. To this moment, no airline has given a rational explanation for eliminating the service.

My vote for "best advertising" of the year? Westin's "Who's s/he sleeping with?" spots. They are utterly trivial, but you gotta love that catch line.

My vote for "worst advertising" of the year? United's "United. Rising" spots. United talks the talk, but can't walk the walk when it comes to delivering on any of the promises the ads make.

My vote for "best Web site idea" of the year? Terry Trippler's Rules of the Air (rulesoftheair.com), which does a dandy job of deciphering the thicket of jargon, tariffs and rules the airlines use to make our lives miserable.

My vote for "worst new Web site idea" of the year? Priceline.com. Most airlines won't cooperate with its bid-for-unsold-tickets strategy, so there's virtually no chance of actually getting a seat at below-market prices.

My vote for "column I wish I didn't write" this year? My treatise in January on CNN International. It's been widely quoted and always out of context to make it sound like I don't like CNNI. I do. Besides, now that CNN no longer even bothers to air a traditional newscast on weeknights between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Eastern time, business travelers would be better served with CNN International in our domestic hotel rooms.

My vote for "line I wish I wrote" this year? After American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Canadian and Qantas announced Oneworld, their worldwide marketing alliance, Trevor Thompson of Toronto E-mailed me this query: "Is it true that all the Oneworld airlines are renaming their coach classes 'Third World?' "

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.