The Brancatelli File



June 1, 2000 -- So I had this great idea: Me and my frequent-flying wife would take a one-week "sabbatical" from our lives on the road. We'd cash some miles, fly to Rome, take an apartment, and wander aimlessly around the freshly scrubbed Eternal City unencumbered by clients, calls, laptops, E-mail and English-language news.

You know, La Dolce Vita.

I made just one mistake. One afternoon last week, instead of stuffing my face with another portion of stuffed fresh zucchini flowers, instead of lingering over my caffe doppio, instead of watching Milliondario, the new, Italian-language version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," I popped into a cybercafe.

You know, just to check E-mail so my mailbox wouldn't overflow. Just to see how the basketball playoffs were going. Just to reassure myself the world hadn't ended.

Allora! as the Romans would say. There in my E-mail was all the big, big stuff: the proposed United purchase of US Airways, the Guarantee and all the missives from you fine folks wondering why I hadn't alerted you to all this earth-shattering news in advance.

What can I say in my own defense? I was seduced by the art in the Villa Borghese. I was transfixed by the pilgrims parading St. Rita's body around Vatican City. I was drugged by the herbaceous potpourri my wife bought in a snazzy little shop off the Piazza Navonna. I was eating--and then talking about eating--with fishmongers, greengrocers, bakers, hotel chefs and the gregarious fellow who sold me cornetti every morning.

But while I was living La Dolce Vita, United was conspiring to make all our lives on the road miserable by buying US Airways.

Let's make this analysis simple: Why should any intelligent nation allow its largest airline to buy its sixth-largest carrier? One reason will do. Any reason.

Can't think of one, can you? Neither can I.

And the only thing worse than United buying US Airways is the chain reaction of competitive responses that would come from the nation's other airlines. American, which now has a code-sharing agreement with US Airways to help it compete with United at Chicago/O'Hare, might go out and buy Northwest or even TWA. Continental and Northwest might mend their frayed relations and merge. Or Continental and Delta might choose to throw in together. Northwest might snatch Alaska. And faster than you can say oligarchy, we'll all be paying through the metaphorical nose for lousy service.

Wait a minute… We already do pay through the nose for lousy service. And it's been that way since we permitted the last round of airline consolidation a decade ago. This time, I think, the departments of Justice and Transportation will learn from recent history and scotch this merger.

This column originally appeared at

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