The Brancatelli File for 2001

joe December 27: Laugh! Cry! See Elizabeth Taylor in an Airport Lounge
'Tis the season for shoe bombers and long security lines, but most frequent flyers I know couldn't give a fa-la-la-la-la about that stuff now. We're most likely at home, off the road and blissfully free of business-travel commitments until after the New Year. So let's take that free time and watch some classic movies about business travel.

December 14: City of Ruins
It is three months and three days now and you have heard over and over about New York's indomitable spirit since the September 11 attacks. New Yorkers are resolute and resilient, the media says, and the entire population of Gotham has developed an admirable new spirit of togetherness and harmony and defiant amiability. True enough. Yet something else is equally true: New York since September 11 is a city of ruins. Eight million people are hanging on by their metaphoric fingernails.

December 6: Burning Down the House
Let me be as clear and unequivocal as humanly possible: America's air-transportation system, as represented by the nation's supposedly full-service carriers, is broken. It cannot be fixed. There is no choice but to burn down the house.

November 29: The Club Life Remains the Best
Carriers have closed a brace of airport clubs and slashed the service hours of others in the wake of September 11, so it has become fashionable to question the value of club membership. I reject that notion. In fact, I restate my long-held and oft-quoted belief: The single best investment you can make in your own comfort, sanity and productivity on the road is the few hundred dollars you invest in joining a club.

November 15: Life Is an Adventure--or a Punch in the Stomach
Dazed and disheartened by the tragic crash of American Flight 587 on Monday, I wandered over to Kennedy Airport in New York on Tuesday morning seeking solace or meaning or even something like comfort. What I found was the infinite wisdom of our fellow flyers. And what it boils down to is this: Life is an adventure--or a punch in the stomach.

November 8: The News, After Eight Weeks
Eight weeks after the tragedy, it has already become a cliché to say that things will never be the same. So I won't say it. Still, who would have ever thought we would be discussing these items as the news of the moment: Airport delays are down because flights have been dramatically cut; U.S. carriers have abandoned Africa; Ariana Afghan Airlines has returned; and, of course, they are still fighting about expanding O'Hare.

November 1: Saving United
This was the week that was at United Airlines: Jim Goodwin, the compromise choice for chief executive three years ago, finally got canned. A 69-year-old board member was appointed caretaker chief executive even though he knows precious little about how to run an airline. And United reported a $1.6 billion loss for the third quarter. Can you say "Dead Airline Flying"?

October 26: Your Money or Your Life
As the pace of news has quickened since 9/11, it's astonishing to learn exactly how many taxpayer dollars the airlines are receiving in bailout funds. In fact, they've gotten a spectacular return on their $8 million in political contributions. Meanwhile, Republicans in the House continue to block the federalization of airport security despite a 100-0 vote in the Senate.

October 18: The New Rules of the Road, Written in the Sand
It's been five weeks now, long enough perhaps to begin rethinking the rules of life on the road and rewriting the playbook for day-to-day survival. For now at least, we're writing tips and strategies in the sand. Rules and routines change by the hour and we're suddenly strangers in a very strange land. But here, as best as I can make out, are some of the new rules of the road.

October 11: Two Words About Security: Tom DeLay
Want to know why we are no safer in the skies today than we were 30 days ago? Two words: Tom DeLay. The Republican majority whip of the House, DeLay is standing in the metaphorical schoolhouse door and refusing to consider legislation that would federalize airport security. Thirty days after this nightmare began, DeLay doesn't think the federal government should secure the nation's airports and airlines.

October 4: Talking Sense About Airline Security
The talking heads have talked. The politicians have postured. The so-called experts have babbled and blustered. Now, we need to cut through the drivel and talk some sense about airline security. What you will read is the truth, but it is not pretty. It is not ready for prime time--or even cable. It also has the distinct disadvantage of being uncomfortable and disagreeable. But it is the truth and it needs to be said because, if nothing else, we need to talk truth amongst ourselves.

September 27: The Cowards and Traitors Among Us
Now we must stop and address the cowards and the traitors among us. You know who they are: the frequent flyers who have refused to fly with passengers who somehow "look" Middle Eastern. I tell you now what you know in your own heart: These frequent flyers are ignorant. They are bigots. They are cowards. They are traitors. They are the American Taliban and they must be stopped.

September 20: No Taxation Without Reregulation
We should be mourning our dead. We should be debating our new security regimens. We should be discussing how we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back on the road. This is what we should be talking about this week. But we can't because the nation's airline executives have decided that now is the time to try to pick our pockets and demand a mind-boggling $24 billion taxpayer-funded bailout of their shabbily run private businesses. I say: No taxation without reregulation.

September 12: We Will Fly Again
Terrorists won many battles Tuesday with their horrific hijackings and almost inconceivable use of passenger jets as weapons. But terrorism has still another goal: to change the pattern and the fabric of our daily lives. That is the war. Terrorists want to make us live our lives a different way because, if we change the way we live our daily lives, they win. And that is why we will fly again. Because we won't let them win the war.

September 6: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Have you noticed how no airline executive is whining about the lack of runway space now? Anyone know who those people are in the Mandarin Oriental ads? Aren't you thrilled that United and Microsoft are teaming up for a promotion? Wonder why TWA employees ever believed American's empty promise to protect jobs? All these quick quips and many more.

August 31: Your Thoughts About More Room in Coach
When I suggested last month that American Airlines' decision to increase the legroom at each coach chair was gigantic progress measured in inches, I didn't expect anyone to suggest a contrary interpretation. Yet almost half of you were also quick to answer my question about why you weren't flying American despite the extra three to five inches of seat pitch.

August 16: US Airways' Plan B From Outer Space
The buccaneering Wolfmen who run US Airways yesterday premiered Plan B from Outer Space, another episode in their five-year series of stinkeroo strategic plans designed to rescue the carrier from its own mismanagement. Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating. US Airways management didn't really call yesterday's post-merger dog-and-pony show Plan B from Outer Space. But they should have. The entire silly charade in New York resembled nothing so much as the worst movie ever made, Ed Wood's exquisitely awful Plan 9 From Outer Space.

July 19: Paradise (Sort of...) Lost (Maybe Not...)
As business travel has collapsed in recent months, elite travelers have begun toting up their miles and room nights and concluded that, for the first time in years, they won't measure up. For the first time in years--or maybe even decades--you may not be flying enough miles and piling up enough room nights in 2001 to qualify for elite status in 2002. But there are ways for you to salvage some or all of your perks in 2002.

July 12: Gigantic Progress Measured in Inches
It is almost 18 months since American Airlines began ripping coach seats out of every plane in its fleet to add as much as five inches of legroom for every coach passenger it flies. Twenty-four flights later, I can say this: If you fly coach, you've got to be nuts not to be flying with American. This is gigantic progress measured in inches.

July 5: The End of the Beginning of the Hated Merger
I beg you to curb your enthusiasm concerning the reported death of the hated United-US Airways merger. This thing is not over, fellow flyers. Maybe, if we're lucky, we are at the end of the beginning, but I assure you we have not heard the end of this vile merger. I know this from experience around the knaves who play at running airlines. I know this because the facts tell me it is not over.

June 28: Signs of Life at Kennedy Airport
A seemingly endless string of patchwork renovations during the last decade has left New York's Kennedy in a near-permanent state of reconstruction and recrimination. From under that dust and depression, however, discerning frequent flyers can see the outlines of a new Kennedy. It's never going to be America's gleaming gateway to the world again. It may never even be among the nation's best airports again. But there are signs of a new life at the most important international airport in the nation's most important city.

June 21: Taking Advantage of The Big Drop
The general economic slowdown and the airlines' stratospheric fares have led to a steep decline in business travel. How can we profit by The Big Drop? Airlines are creatures of bad habits and their moves during the summer are totally predictable. Faced with a shortfall of business travelers, a flood tide of empty seats and a sea of red ink, they will start slashing fares. Of course, most of the offers will be aimed at motivating leisure travelers, but, if we act strategically, we can cut our travel costs, too.

June 14: Tell It to the Judge
The chief executive of the major airlines' lobbying group has invited travelers to sue if the phony-baloney Customer First initiatives fall short. Fair enough. Here's you how to do just that--at minimum cost to you and with maximum inconvenience to the airlines.

May 31: Chutzpah
Having just announced that United would slash seat capacity at O'Hare while increasing flights in unprofitable markets, president Rono Dutta promptly threw himself on mercy of the court of public opinion. He blamed United's bad financial and operational performance on the lack of runway space in Chicago.

May 10: Fare Tales and Bizarro Logic
Why was I able to score a weekend jaunt to Chicago for about one-seventh the price of a business trip? And why, you may be wondering, were 11 adults able to fly to Rome on holiday for less than the price of a single business-class ticket? The answer, at least using the bizarro logic of the airlines, is simple: Overpriced business travel is plummeting, so carriers are frantically slashing the cost of leisure travel.

April 26: The Unbearable Weirdness of Business Travel
I took a week off to live la dolce vita in Rome and, when I came back, I found a collection of weird business-travel stories about the airport that goes out of its way to inconvenience customers; the naked Frenchman on a Greek flight; how Delta reacted after a small Alaskan village aided one of its diverted flights; the dead passenger in the middle seat; and much more.

April 11: The Good Stuff
For a bunch of road-hardened skeptics with one too many bad flights under your collective belt, you guys really produced when I asked you to tell me what's good about life on the road. You stuffed my E-mail box with poetic reverie, good luck and good vibes, off-the-shelf gestures and tales of outrageous excess. And that's just for starters!

April 5: Follies
Follies opens on Broadway today, the same day this column celebrates the beginning of its fourth year. The connection? The central theme of Follies--Can you live with the choices you've made in your life?--is also apropos for this column. As we have gone side by side by side into the woods of business travel during the last three years, we have made a choice. We have chosen, you and I, every week for three years, to talk about life on the road as it really is.

March 22: The Irrefutable Truth: It's Getting Ugly Out There
This is the irrefutable truth: A contraction in business travel invariably happens sooner in the corporate-cutback process rather than later, so the major airlines are already feeling the pinch. The carriers have been nasty, niggling and rapacious when times were good. You have no idea how cheap, petty, absurd, rude and unreliable they get when they lose money.

March 15: The Facts and Figures About Flight Delays
On a good day, the airlines operate one in four flights late and they claim it's our fault because we haven't spent enough tax dollars on new runways and new airports. But even a cursory look at the facts and figures reveals the truth: Airlines are flying twice as many flights as a generation ago but haven't actually increased seat capacity.

March 1: Submitted for Your Approval...
Enter the Twilight Zone of travel to learn that the "i" in bmi (fka British Midland) doesn't mean anything; to discover who called the airlines "a bottomless pit of excuses"; to find out which carriers donate the most soft money to politicians; and much, much more.

February 22: Ruin an Airline, Then Flip Burgers
The most cosmic of all business-travel questions: "What could be the career path of the CEO who runs this stinking airline? Would any other company in the world actually hire this bozo?" We have the answers now that Northwest president and chief executive John Dasburg has quit to run...Burger King.

February 15: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Short musings on the big news: Bill Clinton doesn't pardon any airline executives; Wolf and Goodwin will say anything to get their merger; wicked quips from Bethune and Alfred Kahn; and much, much more.

February 8: Luggage, Our Magnificent Obsession
You're among friends, fellow flyers, so admit it: You're obsessed with your luggage, aren't you? In your mind, you're never carrying the right bag. You've got a closet full of them, but you never have the right one. I'm one of you, of course, and I have some suggestions to make life easier.

February 1: A Funny Kind of Closure on Lockerbie
Fat Boy the Frequent Flyer heard it on television in his hotel room as he was packing up his briefcase and his laptop. It had come like a thunderbolt from the past, incongruously sandwiched between speculation about a Federal Reserve rate cut and a Super Bowl rehash. The TV said that the three Scottish judges presiding over the Lockerbie trial promised to announce their decision sometime during the morning. Lockerbie. When was the last time he even heard a frequent flyer talk about it?

January 25: Airline Oligarchy and Regulatory Wonderland
There's so much news to disseminate this week, so much outrage to voice--and so many snarky remarks to make--I think we need to get right to it. The details of how United and American plan to carve up the nation and restrain competition have been released. Norman Mineta is approved as Transportation Secretary before his hearings are finished. And that's just for starters.

January 18: Into the Merger Way Back Machine
How about you, me, Mr. Peabody and Sherman hop into the Wayback Machine? How about we set the dial for March, 1987? I think we'll find a merger with which we can live. A merger that will create a meaningful new competitor, not extinguish two more major carriers. Back in 1987, Carl Icahn, then head of TWA, suggested a merger with USAir. It could have worked then and it might work now.

January 11: No. No. No. No. No.
We have learned something this week as American, United, TWA and US Airways have wheedled and bullied and lied and attempted to frighten and bamboozle us into handing them absolute control of about half of the nation's skies. We have learned that the more complex they make the deals, the more convoluted they make the terms, the more absurd power-sharing scenarios they spin, the easier it is for us to just say no.

January 4: Making Terms for a United-US Airways Merger
From the moment last May that United announced its intention to swallow up US Airways, the carriers' management corps have been trying to ram this combination down our collective throat. But now that their demands for fast regulatory approval have been rebuffed, I have some suggestions for a merger that wouldn't be anti-consumer.

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