The Brancatelli File for 2000

joe December 20: An Airline Christmas Carol
Getting into the Christmas spirit inevitably brings me to the topic of Scrooge. You know, Ebenezer Scrooge, the Victorian bean counter and quintessential cranky chief executive. And Scrooge inevitably brings me to Bob Crachit, the quintessential working stiff trying to deal honorably with the quintessentially cranky CEO. And that inevitably brings me to how airline executives disrespect and disenfranchise their labor forces and how it all ends up making for a very Dickensian experience for business travelers.

December 14: Winter Hotel Deals, Like Elections, Are Complicated Affairs
Riddle me this, frequent travelers. What's more confusing and frustrating than wading through Tuesday night's Supreme Court decision on the Florida recount? The answer: Trying to make sense of the winter deals from the world's leading hotel chains. Here are the facts. You decide what works for you.

December 7: Who Are You Flying Now?
We've reached an intriguing moment in American air-transportation history. A few of our major carriers are flying high at the same time several others are near operational collapse. Several more face immediate and severe labor problems. So the question is obvious: Who are you flying right now? Here are my thoughts.

November 30: Nobody Asked Me, But...
United's decision to raise business fares as much as $100 each way just before Thanksgiving proves exactly how cruel, calculating and utterly incompetent the airline's management really is. ... What exactly did Andy Card do as Secretary of Transportation to justify his being named President-Presumptive Bush's chief of staff? ... I can live without in-flight E-mail. And much more...

November 9: Some Tips on Tipping
Want to make an otherwise confident business traveler squirm? Just ask about tipping. No one anywhere in the world is comfortable with the topic. But I'm comfortable enough to make some suggestions for who--and how much--to tip in restaurants, hotels, airports and taxis.

November 2: Vote for Me for Airline Czar
With Election Day only hours away, I have finally come to my conclusion: I want you to vote for me for Airline Czar. I don't make this request lightly. I was hoping I didn't have to throw my hat into this ring. Winter's coming and I'm bald and taking my hat off and throwing it anywhere makes no sense at all. But since none of the candidates will say anything about the parlous state of business travel, I feel I must enter the fray.

October 26: Handling the Ghosts and Goblins of On-the-Road Illnesses
What if the ghost of a business dinner past plays havoc with your digestion? Or what if you develop a migraine and can't clear the goblins out of your head before a big business meeting? The issue of ill health on the road is an unsettling topic. But as all too many business travelers will attest, you can fall ill on the road. Thankfully, I've got an easy-to-follow prescription for preparedness.

October 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About a New Car
Here's the good news: The 2001 automobiles are making their way into dealer showrooms around the nation. Here's the bad news: Pushy salesmen are waiting at those showrooms to pounce on you. But fear not. Thanks to the Internet, you can get virtually every bit of data on any new vehicle you're considering before you set foot on a car lot.

October 5: The Buzz on JetBlue
You may have heard the buzz about JetBlue. You may have heard that it is trendy. That its leather seats are filled with beautiful people who otherwise wouldn't be caught dead flying coach. After a dozen flights on the new airline, I can say with complete confidence that the buzz on JetBlue is a big blue log of baloney. JetBlue ain't trendy. But here's the amazing thing: The truth about JetBlue is better than the buzz.

September 28: Negotiating the Maze of Car-Rental Insurance
Do you know what PAI is? How about CDW or SLI? They are just some of the optional insurance products that car-rental firms try to sell you at the counter. But most business travelers already have all the insurance they need. Here's why you can probably say "No!" to all the rental-car ups and extras.

September 21: California Dreamin'
Physically unwilling and mentally unable to face even one more flight, I grabbed a convertible this week and motored my way up the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The view was awesome, the price was right and, needless to say, the driver's seat of a ragtop is a lot more comfortable than another middle seat in coach. Here's what you think about while you're pumping $2 a gallon gasoline in a rented car on the other side of the country from home.

September 14: Sending United a Message
United's agreement with its pilots has somehow convinced the mainstream media that all is well at United Airlines again. Wrong. The story actually starts now, when business travelers are having their say. And you're talking with your feet and your wallet: You've rejected United's mileage bribe and you're booking away in droves. Besides, United's operations continue to crumble, so there's not much of an airline to fly.

August 31: How to Pack It In
No matter what kind of luggage you favor, you probably need a packing strategy. I've got tips you should know on how to minimize wrinkles and maximize your packing space. I've also got some good ideas about what to pack, where to put it, what to roll and what to wrap.

August 24: Will You Take United's Bribe?
Shockingly, United is operating three of four flights late in some weeks during the summer. Management is also canceling hundreds of flights every day. Rather than try to fix the meltdown, United is offering flyers a mileage bribe to look the other way. And it continues to divert management "talent" to preparations for the US Airways merger.

August 17: Surviving the Summer of Airline Delays
This is what we live with: Delays of an hour or more on even the shortest flights, frequent cancellations and harrowing tales of travelers required to spend two or three days getting home. This is what we should do: Reschedule business trips for the fall. Of course, we probably won't reschedule. So, if you must travel in the next few weeks, here are some practical tips to help keep you sane and on schedule.

August 10: The Summer of Our Discontent
This, to paraphrase that Shakespeare guy, is the summer of our discontent. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it has. You obviously know all these dogs of war because you've been peppering me with a record number of complaints this summer. And, as I've always said, your E-mail messages are much more eloquent about the state of life on the road than I could ever be. Here are some of your thoughts.

August 3: A Packet of File Folders and a Flight to Boston
As far as anyone can tell, business travelers have been using office supplies for as long as there have been offices and supplies. And as far as anyone knows, business travelers have been flying since about 20 minutes after the Wright Brothers slapped wings on their bicycle. Almost a hundred years later, someone has finally figured out that business travelers would buy office supplies at the airport if anyone at the airport sold office supplies. Staples now does.

July 27: Four Ways to Fight Back
When did we become sheep? When did business travelers make the tragic transformation from stoic warriors to mindless robo-flyers? Did I miss the memo that ordered us to pay what the major airlines charge and fly without thinking? Was I out of town the week we had the big meeting and we all agreed to do what we were told even if we knew it was wrong? If you want to fight back against high prices and bad service, here are four ways to do it.

July 20: Finding Your (Parking) Spot at the Airport
Planes are packed, airports are crowded and parking lots are often jammed to capacity. That last fact is particularly distressing because crowded airport access roads and overflowing parking lots could cause you to miss a flight and destroy an otherwise carefully planned business trip. But there are a few ways to ease the airport parking congestion. You need to do a little homework and think a little more creatively, but you can beat the airport parking blues.

July 13: You Buy and You Fly? Then You're Happy
Airlines soak business travelers on fares, run planes late or not at all and generally treat us like 21st century serfs in suits. But it's your fault. There is no other logical, defensible position after examining the airlines' traffic figures for the month of June. Fares are at an all-time high, service is at an all-time low, but virtually all the major carriers racked up record gains in traffic and load factors. So, despite all your complaints, you must be happy.

July 6: Nobody Asked Me, But...
The United Shuttle may be running worse than any other major airline operation. ... I'm tired of frequent flyers complaining about in-flight food. ... What sense does it make to build a double-decked, 555-seat plane like the Airbus 3xx when the airlines keep shifting to itsy-bitsy 737s on transcon and long-haul routes? ... Isn't it about time for the airlines to admit they made a mistake by eliminating advance boarding passes? And much more...

June 29: The Mobile Phone Merry-Go-Round
We pass this way just once, or so I have been advised, and I was really hoping that I could have done it without a mobile phone. But I now concede that I gotta have one. And there is a decided advantage to being a relative newbie in the mobile world. I have some state-of-the-art, avoid-the-bleeding-edge advice about your next mobile phone purchase.

June 22: Fuel Facts: Five Ways to Cut Your Gasoline Costs
You'd be surprised how easy it is to cut your gasoline consumption, improve your fuel economy and save some money. As gas prices skyrocket, try my simple tips to use less gas. And I promise: You won't have to slow down (too much) or trade in your favorite gas guzzler.

June 15: You Stay Home, So Hotels Deal
The Summer Solstice is just around the columnist's proverbial corner and that means just one thing for business travelers: home. Frequent flyers travel less frequently on business during the summer than just about any other time of the year. So, with my exquisite columnist's timing, let me tell you about some great hotel deals available this summer.

June 8: Fares Are the Name of the Business-Travel Game
Let's talk about airfares. After all, fares are the name of the game. The more we allow airlines to merge, the higher our fares are going to go. In fact, as a new report from the Department of Transportation reveals, fares are already running amuck, especially in short-haul markets and on city-pairs where competition has previously disappeared.

June 1: La Dolce Vita
United has decided it will buy US Airways in a merger valued at $11 billion. I'm in Rome and I can't understand the rationale. So I offer a simple analysis: "Why should any intelligent nation allow its largest airline to buy its sixth-largest carrier? One reason will do. Any reason."

May 25: Redefining the Great American Family Road Trip
Summer's almost here and you know what that means: an unbearable family summer road trip. But guess what: It doesn't have to be a trial to pile the kids in the family car and take off on the open road. Here are some tips to improve the experience and put some fun back into the road trip.

May 11: Summer in the Park: A Brief Planning Primer
Chances are your summer vacation plans include a visit to one of the nation's glorious national parks or other recreation areas. I've got all the details on how to plan your holiday: the relevant Web sites, news on a new parks pass program and details on important new restrictions on using personal watercraft in the parks.

May 4: Speechless
I am disappointed to report that this week, at least, I am speechless. I simply do not know what to make of these news items. They all seem so bizarre, so outrageous and so mind-numbingly inexplicable that I have nothing so say. To wit: Lufthansa bans the Financial Times; Swedish maids strike against hotel porn; Posh Spice loses her luggage; and other odd bits of life on the road.

April 27: Pots, Kettles and Carry-On Bags
So what do you do when the pot not only calls the kettle black, it sues the kettle and claims the kettle is doing what we know pots and kettles have done for years? The pot in question this week is Continental Airlines, which Monday filed suit against a kettle containing United Airlines and the bureaucrats who run Dulles International Airport near Washington. At issue are those hateful carry-on templates that United, Delta and American have been slapping on X-ray machines at security checkpoints around the nation.

April 20: How to Plan for Off-Season Caribbean Bargains
Want to stay at some of the world's most beautiful resorts and save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars? Good. Just wait a few days, then make a reservation any place you fancy in the Caribbean. The "off-season" starts May 1 and prices plummet 30-50 percent at seaside resorts around the region.

April 6: You Have the Right to Remain Servile
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.

March 23: The Risky Mix: Driving and Talking
Driving while distracted by cell phone calls is about as dangerous as driving drunk. The issue isn't whether or when some state or city will restrict your right to call while driving, it's whether you want to drive safely. Here are some tips to manage motoring and mobile phones with the least risk.

March 16: You Asked for It: On-Time Arrival Statistics
Last month's column about early-morning flying and timely departures elicited a strain of interesting E-mails. Who cares about leaving on time, more than a few of you wrote. The key thing is arriving on time. Right you are. By its very nature, business travel is about getting somewhere. So here are major-airport arrival statistics.

March 9: Off the Map in the New London
Whip out your map of London and try to find the British capital's hottest business district. Look for the area marked Canary Wharf or Docklands or even the Isle of Dogs. Look east, past The City, past the West End, past Tower Bridge, past anywhere and every place you've ever been in London. Can't find it, can ya? No surprise. Canary Wharf, the new London--some would argue the future of London--literally isn't on the map.

March 2: E-Commerce Forgets the Commerce
What part of E-commerce don't the technical wizards understand? Judging from friends and neighbors who were driven to bricks-and-mortar stores during the final moments of the Christmas buying frenzy, I gather it's the "commerce" part of E-commerce. The techies can invent all the shopping bots, virtual malls, secure sites and 1-click order subroutines they want. None of it means jack if they don't have products to sell to customers.

February 24: Planning a Spring Training Road Trip
All 30 major-league teams are headquartered in either Florida or Arizona for spring training and that makes a baseball road trip an easy, fun-filled option. And even when the regular season begins in April, it's easy to find nearby towns to plan a "home and away" road trip. Batter up!

February 17: The Early Flyer Is Least Often Delayed
I know this sounds like something out of the Farmer's Almanac. I know this sounds like something a nagging mother would say. I know that telling a frequent flyer when to fly makes me sound like your mom, admonishing you to dress warmly and wear clean underwear. But I've come to an inescapable conclusion: The early flyer is the least often delayed.

February 10: Back to the Future in the Back of the Bus
Some airlines are finally getting smart enough to go back to the future in the back of the bus. The decisions last week of American Airlines to add leg room at its coach-class seats and of British Airways to create a fourth cabin for travelers who pay full-fare coach is being analyzed, deconstructed, debated and quantified from a zillion angles. But the bottom line is simple enough for all to see and feel: This is good, this is right, this is the minimum level of comfort we deserve.

February 3: How to Survive a Theme Park Visit
Once you master the financial complexities of visiting a theme park, the really daunting work begins: planning to survive the physical rigors of these sprawling mini-cities. Don't be deceived. Theme parks are fun only if you've done your legwork before you travel. I've got some useful tips.

January 27: The (Dirty) Laundry List of Surcharge Outrages
There is so much wrong with the new airline fuel surcharges on so many moral, financial and philosophical levels that I'd need 9,000 words to explain it all. But I only get about 900 words, so there's only room for a (dirty) laundry list of the airlines' egregious offenses.

January 20: The Perfect Travel Blend for Valentine's Day
Just about every traveler knows the ingredients for a perfect Valentine's Day: breakfast in bed at a hotel, a bottle of Champagne, chocolates and flowers. But not every "romance" package at every hotel is the same. I've got some tips to help you score exactly the romantic getaway you desire and some ideas for how to spend Love Day.

January 13: This Year's Crop of Start-Ups
There may be seven habits of highly effective people, 50 ways to leave your lover and 99 bottles of beer on the wall, but there are drastically fewer methods of breaking the power of the insufferably arrogant airline cartels that dominate the American skies. One of the very few ways to challenge this oligarchy of awfulness is with some new airlines and several newbies are prepared to launch this year.

January 6: Happy New Year! It's Deal Time
Know why I love the New Year? It's about the only time of year when business travelers can get theirs back on the travel industry. With travel at its lowest ebb of the year, the industry is desperate to get our business. This is when they cut prices, offer upgrades and unleash all sorts of promotions to get us traveling. From now until about the middle of March, we've got the financial hammer.

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