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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE NET CHANGES EVERYTHING
ABOUT LIFE ON THE ROAD


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

June 10, 1999 -- Every day for most of the last half of this century, road warriors have gone to battle with the same five basic tools: airlines, hotels, rental cars, credit cards and telephones.

Other amenities have come and gone--businessmen once wore hats and businesswomen once wore nylons--but business travel during the last fifty years hasn't changed. Other concepts have been advanced--video conferencing seems to have come and gone without ever having actually arrived--only to fall to the inevitability of an airline seat, a hotel room, a rented car, a wallet full of credit and an earful of phone. Trains stopped running, passenger liners became leisure cruises, travelers checks disappeared and slide rules became calculators and they morphed into computers. But, for business travelers, life on the road has been planes and hotels and cars and cards and phones.

Until now. Now there is the Internet and nothing about business travel will ever be the same again.

The Internet changes everything. It fundamentally and stylistically alters our lives on the road. We are different travelers--different people, really--because of the Web. In what seems like a blink of a digital eye, the Net and the World Wide Web are now every bit as important to business travelers as planes and hotels and cars and credit and phones.

Stop surfing for just a moment and think about it. Five years ago, you bought a plane ticket or reserved a room or rented a car the same way they did it fifty years ago: you called someone. Now you probably do it on the Internet. And you can do it a half dozen ways. Want to deal directly with an airline? Go to its proprietary Web site. Want to see all flights and all fares? Go to Travelocity, Expedia or any of dozens of other online booking engines.

Five years ago, if you wanted to communicate from the road, you did it the old-fashioned way: You picked up the phone or you sent a fax. Maybe you reached someone, maybe you didn't. But now, with the Internet, you're most likely to send E-mail--and you know that you'll get your message across immediately. And even if you want to communicate the old-fashioned way, you may actually be dealing with a Web site like Jfax.com, which routes your calls and your faxes into someone's E-mail inbox.

But the Internet hasn't only changed how we interact with our traditional business-travel tools. The Internet isn't merely a facilitator. It is spawning a mind-bending array of new tools and processes that improve how we live our lives on the road.

Need a part or a peripheral for your laptop? Head to ControlMemory.com, where every imaginable product is listed by laptop and model. Need a map? Forget those generic printed ones sold at retail. Just go to Mapquest.com and download a customized, personalized graphic, complete with turn-by-turn directions. You're never far from cash now, because the ATM locators on the credit-card Web sites will pinpoint one just down the block from your hotel room.

Worried about your next overseas trip? Don't be. The State Department Web site has travel information for every nation on the planet. But it doesn't stop there. Thanks to the Internet, you can now read what the British Foreign Office says. Want more? Go to the Australian or Canadian foreign-affairs Web sites. No need to pine for your hometown news or sports now. It's all on the Internet when you travel and you can find out what the Atlanta Braves are doing from Budapest or Baltimore or Bali.

Right now, I gotta go check my frequent-flyer programs. Of course, the Internet's changed that, too.

I used to plow through printed statements from the airlines and hotels that were weeks or months out of date. But now, thanks to the Internet, all I have to do is check my accounts online. They're more up-to-date than paper and easier to cross-check, too. Or I can log on to MileageManager.com. All of my programs are there, in one place, totally updated and just a few keystrokes away.

Like I said, the Internet changes everything.

This column originally appeared at Skymalltravel.com.

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