The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Meanwhile, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away ...
March 26, 2015 -- Hear the big travel news? Ryanair, the low-fare/high-fee airline Europeans love to hate, is coming to America. Fares start at $15 one-way on transatlantic hauls between a dozen cities.
Except, you know, it's a lie. Ryanair isn't coming to America, never intended to and doesn't have the planes to do it even if it wanted to.
And didja hear that the entire hotel world has changed and the lodging industry is full of cutesy rooms that are short on actual room and useful amenities like closets and desks but long on the stuff that millennials supposedly favor?
Except, you know, there's exactly one of these hotels in the world and you have to schlep all the way to Milan's hated Malpensa Airport to find it.
Before the awful news about Germanwings Flight 9525, that was the week that was in travel journalism: Lies and near lies about the state of life on the road dominating the chattering classes while real travelers dealt with strikes in Europe, late-winter snow in the East and the machete-wielding interloper attacking airport security in New Orleans.
When you come here each week, you have reasonable expectations: That I will write about topics relevant to our lives as business travelers. That I will get the facts straight. That my analyses are rooted in those facts, notable historic trends and logical (if not popular) judgments about business. That I will bring the proper skepticism to the travel industry, which, after all, is merely a vendor that wants to sell us things. And, crucially, that I empathize with and understand your life on the road because I live my life on the road, too.
Those last two factors--skepticism and empathy--are where far too many of my ink- and electron-stained colleagues fail. Seduced by the so-called glamour of travel, they forget to ask some basic questions about who's telling them what. They are obsessed with what doesn't exist. Worst of all, they seem blithely disinterested in connecting any of it to the life you lead.
Take last week's "big" story: the "news" that Ryanair would launch transatlantic flights at ridiculously low prices. It should never have been a big story. It probably should never have been reported at all. Ryanair and its bombastic chief executive, Michael O'Leary, are notorious for making things up as a way to get attention.
Although he's a clever airline operator, O'Leary may be most famous for claiming every few months that he would charge passengers to use lavatories. He periodically pulls the claim out of mothballs and newspapers, tv networks and Web sites worldwide dutifully report his words even though they know it's not true.
Why isn't it true? Well, for starters, after the first time he claimed he'd do it and didn't, it's a lie until he actually does install meters on his lavs. But it's also a lie because the claim doesn't pass the (sorry) smell test. To charge for lavatories, Ryanair would almost surely have to stop selling in-flight booze since virtually every jurisdiction in the First World requires free access to restrooms in any establishment that sells alcohol. No smart airline operator is going to bypass the substantial booze revenue he generates for the couple of pence and pennies he could raise charging for the head.
As for Ryanair's latest claim of cheap transatlantic flights, the otherwise august Guardian newspaper was explaining how aged the declaration was even as it gleefully reported it. "Michael O'Leary has long hoped to set up a low-cost transatlantic service," the paper said without a hint of irony.
How many times does the boy (er, CEO) get to cry wolf (uh, cheap transatlantic flights) before reporters stop listening?
After being taken in again by Ryanair and quoting "experts" suggesting that other airlines will "quake in their boots," The New York Times returned to the story several days later and decided that a contrite O'Leary had learned his lesson.
But what about the media learning its lesson? Even if you were gullible enough or careless enough to believe Ryanair's Nth declaration of intent last week, why not process the fact that Ryanair's transatlantic fleet literally doesn't exist? And that this airline has a known history of making stuff up. No planes and no track record of truth should equal no story.
This strange brew of writing about the nonexistent while ignoring the real world is bizarrely compelling to some travel writers. Why, I do not know. But it is infuriating to the rest of us who must travel in the here and now.
That's why this story about "hotels for a new generation" was so egregious. Citing a rehash of hotel trends that have been covered extensively at JoeSentMe and elsewhere, the writer breathlessly explained how four chains (Moxy from Marriott, Canopy from Hilton, Centric from Hyatt and Red from Radisson) are somehow pioneering a concept.
Except, you know, those four chains have exactly one hotel open, the Moxy at Malpensa Airport. It's nice enough for what it is, I suppose, but it's also clear that the reporter didn't even bother to go see it. The entire story was guesstimate, rewritten corporate talking points and company-provided photography.
Besides, if you're going to write about lodgings that cater to a supposed new generation of traveler, why not at least cover the chains that already do it? Consider the pluses and minuses of CitizenM, Yotel or Starwood's Aloft brand. CitizenM and Yotel also have the notable benefit of operating properties just blocks from the reporter's New York office. There are also two Aloft hotels in New York City. She wouldn't even have had to fly to Milan.
Or how about this tub of crap masquerading as insight on the matter of the heinous slimline seats we now must endure in coach? I actually reached out to the editor of the offending publication to inform her that a) travelers in the intra-Hawaiian market pay some of the highest per-mile fares in the nation; b) a disproportionate number of flyers in the market are, to put it delicately, people of size; and c) it was unfair and unrealistic to use staged photography showing one person in a row "manspreading" to his heart's (and legs') content. I even offered to pay for a ticket for the writer to fly between Honolulu and Hilo in the middle seat between two hefty Samoans and see if he came away with the same flyers-should grin-and-bear-it conclusion.
The editor didn't actually refute my facts, but insisted I was impugning her integrity and denigrating the expertise of the writer in question. Damned right I was. Beyond the length of the flights, what he knows about the dynamics of the market he was writing about is exactly nothing. Yet he decided you should be okay sitting in those awful seats because the flights are short.
I think you get my point: You mostly can't believe what you read about travel these days. Too much of it is about stuff that literally does not exist. Far too much of it is nonsensical. Almost none of it is about the lives we actually live on the road. And, as I wrote in a column a dozen years ago, the travel industry lies so routinely now that there are even standards for how and when they do it.
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