The Brancatelli File



August 8, 2002 -- This, I believe, is true: America wants to travel on September 11.

Deep in its confused and wounded heart, America wants to fly. It wants to check into hotels and drive rental cars.

It doesn't want to go anywhere in particular on September 11. It just wants to go.

Just to show that it can. If only to prove to those bastards--and we still don't seem to know who, exactly, those bastards are--that you can't stop America by stealing our planes, smashing them into tall buildings and killing thousands of innocents.

Our Manifest Destiny on September 11, 2002, demands we travel. To prove to ourselves that we all still dream the American Dream even after the nightmare of September 11, 2001.

Lacking any other national consensus on how we should act this September 11 and all the other September 11s to come, I do believe America feels that an irrefutable statement of its determination would be to get on a plane, walk up to a hotel check-in desk or get behind the wheel of a rented car.

So why won't we be traveling on September 11? Why won't we be pushing into the crowded departure halls of airports from Bangor, Maine, to Anchorage, Alaska? Why won't we be queuing up at the front desk of the St. Regis in New York or the Hilton Hawaiian Village or the Motel 6 in Madison, Wisconsin?

We have no leadership, that's why.

The frightened men who run the nation's major airlines are cowering in their corner offices saying there's nothing they can do that wouldn't look tacky. The people who run the nation's hotels and car-rental firms have been invisible. Our political leaders are mute. The media has been silent and stupid. The nation's business leaders have disappeared. Religious leaders have been struck dumb. Community activists are missing in action.

This, I believe, is true: America wants to travel on September 11. And I also believe there is still time to save the day.

I expect nothing from people named Bush or Cheney or Daschle or Gephardt or Clinton or Kennedy or Hastert. No politician can lead us in this matter.

Heaven help us, but the men who must lead this September 11 are airline executives named Carty and Bethune and Mullin. They have names like Bollenbach and Sternlicht and Marriott and they run the nation's hotels.

It is time for them to stand and deliver. They must ignore the marketing wizards and image consultants and naysayers who whisper in their ears that the only position for the travel industry to take on September 11 is the fetal position.

These men, who have failed us so often, need to find the courage to do something dramatic. They don't have to offer free seats like Spirit Airlines did this week. They don't have to open their hotel doors for free.

But they need to do something. Their planes are empty on September 11. Their hotels are empty on September 11. They need to step up to the microphones--individually or collectively--and say this: America should be traveling on September 11. Not because it is good for the travel industry. Not because it is good for airlines and hotels and car-rental firms. But because it is good for America.

And then they need to cut the hell out of fares and room rates. For one day only, on September 11, how about $100 anywhere, for any empty seat? For one day only, on September 11, how about $25 anywhere, for any empty room?

And how about they put a collection box on every airplane and in every hotel lobby in America on September 11? And what if they said to America: We're giving you airline seats for $100 and hotel rooms for $25, but we expect you to put $100 more in the collection box as you board the plane and $25 more in the collection box when you check in at the front desk. And how about if we take all those $100 and $25 donations and give them to soup kitchens or homeless shelters or reading programs?

And what if publishers and broadcasters and Web magnets kicked in free ad space to promote travel on September 11? And what if priests and rabbis and ministers and imams told their flocks that it would be a good thing to travel on September 11 and pay it forward to the collection boxes? And what if community leaders--and big mouths like me--bought up those airline seats and hotel rooms and handed them out to Americans willing to travel on September 11?

And what if everyone who traveled on September 11, 2002, made time to stop for a service in memory of all those who died on September 11, 2001?

The planes would be full on September 11. Hotels would be full on September 11. Churches and temples and synagogues and mosques would be full on September 11.

And America would be making the statement I believe it wants and needs to make.

It is thirty-something days until September 11, 2002. There's still time to do all of this. It wouldn't take much. Just one airline or hotel executive to start the ball rolling.

September 11 is going to be a sad and horrific day no matter what we do. There will be tears and anguish and anger and sadness and suffering. But if we stay home or lock ourselves in our offices, it will be even worse.

America, I believe, wants to travel on September 11. It needs to travel on September 11. It must travel on September 11.

This column originally appeared at

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