The Brancatelli File



July 24, 2003 -- There are bucketsful of bad news this week. Barrels full. Tractor trailers full.

There have been thousands of cancellations caused by the lousy weather in Memphis and a one-day strike against British Airways in London. Planes are packed and cramped. Security lines are getting long. Hotels are adding surcharges on the air in their lobbies. The dollar is in the dungeon against the Euro, making a summer holiday in Provence or Pantelleria an exercise in financial suicide.

Then there is the never-ending saga of airline finances. When you discount the bailout money we served up to the Big Six on taxpayer-funded silver platters, the second-quarter earnings have been atrocious. Northwest had the worst second quarter in its history. Delta and American racked up appalling losses. Continental, which promised the world it would be profitable again by last year's second quarter, continues to hemorrhage cash.

Like I said, fellow flyers, things are bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.

But I say this: Don't Worry, Be Happy.

I'm not kidding. For this week, at least, to hell with bad news. Life on the road stinks and it'll stink again next week. This week, though, let's get irrationally exuberant. Let's talk about what's good about life on the road.

Go ahead, I dare you. Tell me about what's good about life on the road. Please, I'm begging you. I'm so anxious to hear what you like that I've set up a special E-mail address just to field your favorites. I'll print the best of what's good about business travel in a column or two next month.

I'm doing this because I have seen the immediate future of business travel and it looks dreary. We're gonna need to take our good news where we can find it. Or make it.

What do I consider good news? That's easy. Anything that makes you feel good on the road. Anything that makes being a business traveler easier and less stressful. Anything that makes you smile, or saves you five minutes, or helps you be a better frequent flyer and a better person. Anything that makes you happy.

Maybe it's an airport that you like. Or a particular hotel. It could be a bar in some town you visit or a great restaurant where you hang after visiting some remote location. It could be a great concierge or a helpful gate agent you know fairly well. Love your frequent-flyer program? Tell me about it. Think you know the best place in the world to have a suit made? Hey, lemme know, and I promise to share your find with everyone.

I'm happy to start the ball rolling, too. To paraphrase Julie Andrews, these are a few of my favorite things about life on the road.

Even though the demise of Swissair and the unraveling of its successor, Swiss, is distressing, I still think the duty-free shopping at Zurich Airport is just terrific. The selection of Swatch watches is great and you can score a box of Montecristo #5 cigars for a fraction of what they cost in London.

Hotel rooms with coffeemakers make me happy. There's something liberating about being able to make coffee whenever you want.

Boy, I like Hong Kong. And since the city is desperate to lure travelers back after the SARS scare, the bargains are amazing. Tour packagers are offering a slew of two-for-one deals. Even the fancy hotels are basically giving rooms away. And Hong Kong has the glorious Star Ferry and, because I'm a business traveler, I get to ride it once in a while.

I don't like Orbitz because I don't like the major airlines controlling the ticket-distribution process, but, man, the site's "Flex Search" function is terrific. You can research fares for up to three days before and three days after your selected departure and arrival dates. It's a fantastic way to beat the airlines at their own despicable yield-management game.

Even more than three years after it launched, it needs to be said: JetBlue Airways is a great idea. What could be wrong with cheap, walk-up fares for leather seats and free television on new planes? And when they convert the back of the planes to the 34-inch configuration for seat pitch, it'll be a little blue heaven.

Being a frequent flyer has allowed me to ride all the world's great mass-transit systems. I get a kick out of the fact that London builds new Underground stations and I get to see them. I'm always jazzed by Ueno Station in Tokyo. And I'm glad Atlanta and Los Angeles and Athens have built systems and I get to ride them.

There's something weirdly satisfying about turning on the television in any hotel room in any city in the world and being able to find Star Trek. And The Simpsons is funny anywhere, even when it's dubbed in French.

Breakfast of popovers, poha jam and Kona coffee while looking at the Pacific Ocean from a table at Orchids in the Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu works for me.

Some of the nicest people I know I met via E-mail because I write this column. And I wouldn't write this column if I didn't live my life on the road.

I always stop to listen to someone playing the piano in a hotel lobby. Hotel piano players live interesting lives and all of them seem to know a lot of Johnny Mercer songs.

If I wasn't a frequent flyer, I would never have gotten to Brazil and then I would never have tasted guarana. If I ruled the world, every hotel mini-bar in every town in America would have a couple of cans of guarana.

I have the holy books of all the world's great religions. I stole them all from hotel-room nightstands.

I've seen Copernicus' classroom in Cracow, walked through Red Square at night and Tivoli in the spring. I've waved from the Pope's balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square and played a pick-up hardball game in Shinjuku park in Tokyo. I've sat on airplanes next to actors, dancers, captains of industry, scientists and missionaries. I talked to a Nobel Laureate in a hotel coffee shop. This is not too shabby for a kid from Brooklyn.

There's a bookshop in Artillery Row in London called Politico's. They don't laugh at me when I ask for books about Neville Chamberlain in my Brooklyn accent. Come to think of it, the clerks at the bakery in Frankfurt airport don't laugh at me when my college German fails me in the middle of an order for as many varieties of pretzel bread as I can stuff in my carry-on bag.

Eight words: I met my wife on a business trip.

This column originally appeared at

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