The Brancatelli File



April 6, 2000 -- What's the difference between frequent flyers and alleged perpetrators?

The answer, of course, is self-evident: People about to be arrested have Miranda rights. Cops not only have to read them, they have to make sure alleged perpetrators understand them.

We business travelers aren't so lucky. The airlines can do whatever they want, whenever they want, for whatever reasons they want. Frequent flyers only have the right to remain servile.

What's new, you ask? Hasn't it been that way for years? Maybe, but the airlines seem more obsessed with their dictatorial power than ever before.

For the transgression of publicly criticizing airline executives, business travelers now have their elite frequent-flyer credentials revoked. Newly formed "revenue protection" storm troopers audit travelers and declare them retroactively guilty of crimes against the airline tariffs. And the strongman of the airline's worldwide trade group is exhorting his cabal to continue to soak travelers.

To be honest, things are so bad that I'm putting my life in jeopardy just by writing this. I've got to fly later this week, but if I disappear from the passenger manifest and you don't hear from me by next week's column, please E-mail my wife. Tell her I love her. Remind her I've stashed our frequent-flyer miles and the letters of transit in the false heating duct under my desk. Tell her to get someplace where they never heard of middle seats in coach.

But while I'm still at liberty, strike up the band, join me in a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise and let me tell you what's happened lately.

Surf to the website of Canada's leading business paper, the Financial Post, and you'll find the tale of how Air Canada is attempting to humiliate Robert Lawrie, one of the carrier's most frequent customers.

For reasons known only to Air Canada, it canceled Lawrie's membership in the Aeroplan frequent-flyer program, revoked his coveted Super Elite status and confiscated almost 2 million miles in his account. An international lawyer, Lawrie threatened to sue, so Air Canada reopened his account and restored his miles, but refused to reinstate his Super Elite status. Moreover, the airline informed Lawrie, "for at least three years regardless of your flying activities with Air Canada," he would never recover his status.

Why? In a letter to Lawrie, Air Canada lawyer Louise-Helen Senecal wrote: "In your different interactions with members of our staff you systematically spoke negatively about [Robert Milton] our president and CEO. We will therefore revoke your Aeroplan Super Elite status and all of the privileges associated therewith."

Meanwhile, Chris McGinnis' column in the Atlanta Business Chronicle unearths the existence of Delta's new Revenue Protection Unit. McGinnis doesn't say, but my sources in the Frequent Flyer Underground report that we can identify RPU officers by their black boots, brown shirts and shiny silver-dollar-sign insignias.

Apparently, the RPU's mission is to audit the Skymiles frequent-flyer accounts of Delta's best customers. Whenever they discover the taint of low fares--or if they discover your mother once flew on a discount ticket--they penalize customers under the terms of Delta's revenue-purity laws. The McGinnis story relates the tale of Karen Giordano, a Skymiles Platinum member. The RPU didn't like the activity in her account, so they confiscated miles and busted her down to Skymiles Gold status. My sources say the RPU has informed Atlanta-based Giordano that any further indiscretions will result in her resettlement to a new hub in the East.

And finally we come to Jean Jeanniot, director general of the International Air Transport Association, the shadowy secret society of airlines. Jeanniot was in New York this week giving a speech to his devoted IATA minions, but he also granted an audience to Jay Campbell, the fine reporter for Bridge News.

"Airlines hold much of their destiny in their own hands," he told Campbell. "It's time for this industry to make some real money." Jeanniot doesn't consider several years of record earnings driven by record high fares to be "real money." The big assault on our collective wallet is yet to come, Jeanniot intimated. One example: the Internet, which carriers can use to save 8-10 percent off their costs. But airlines "have to resist the temptation of giving away all this savings to consumers."

Like I said, the airlines have put us all on notice. They are shocked--shocked!--at our flagrant disregard of their authority. They are preparing to round up the usual suspects.

If you want to survive, repeat after me: You have the right to remain servile. Anything you say had better be complimentary. You have the right to adhere to their inexplicable tariff rules. If you cannot afford the fares, a loan shark will be appointed for you.

This column originally appeared at

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