The Brancatelli File



December 18, 2003 -- Look, it's the holidays, time for Christmas cheer and all. Do you really want to ruin your mood by reading about the depressing facts of life on the road? Again.

Nah, let's keep it light, consult the frequent-flying ghost of Christmas still to come and see what lies ahead for us in 2004.

But before we proceed, this disclaimer: What follows is an attempt at humor. Despite the eerie echoes of reality, I made all this stuff up. These are jokes.

I tell you this because when I did a parody column in February, hundreds of you wrote to me and took it seriously. And that in itself is a sad commentary on the state of things. So, this time, relax. I tell you now that these are jokes designed to elicit some holiday cheer. None of what follows has actually happened. At least not yet...

In a dramatic move to slash operating costs, US Airways announced that it will immediately lay off its entire rank-and-file workforce and sell all of its aircraft.

"We need to lower our costs to better compete with the low-cost carriers," a US Airways executive explained. "We've determined that flight crews, mechanics, baggage handlers and even the planes themselves are high-cost items that aren't supportable in today's competitive environment. We've said for months that everything was on the table in our efforts to meet the goals of our post-bankruptcy business plan and we think the actions we've taken today will go a long way toward bringing our costs and revenues in balance."

A US Airways spokesman later dismissed as "rank media speculation" the contention that travelers would not buy US Airways tickets if there were, in fact, no planes, no crews and no flights.

"We've looked carefully at our consumer-satisfaction surveys," the spokesman said. "When given the choice, even our best customers would prefer not to fly us. So we think this plan perfectly aligns our service proposition with consumer expectations."

Mimicking the trend begun earlier this year when United Airlines created a low-fare carrier called "Ted," Northwest Airlines announced its own discount airline called "EST."

Northwest officials stressed that EST would not be a typical low-fare carrier from a struggling, Big Six airline. EST will adhere to the training methods of Werner Erhardt, who spearheaded the EST consciousness movement in the 1970s and 1980s.

"We think matching a Northwest low-fare airline concept with EST is long overdue," a Northwest executive explained. "Every EST flight will also be an EST training seminar. Our flight attendants are already accomplished at demeaning passengers at every opportunity, but now we'll be able to channel that hostility into a formal structure and position it as a passenger amenity."

From the operational side, Northwest says EST will be able to reduce costs because passengers will not be permitted to use restrooms, eat or drink during the seminar flights. The airline's vintage DC-9s--which actually predate the EST movement--will be dedicated to EST flying. Lavatories and galleys will be removed, permitting Northwest to reconfigure each EST DC-9 with up to 220 seats.

EST founder Werner Erhardt has been hired as the spokesguru for EST. Print and broadcast advertising, which will break in the first quarter, will feature Erhardt and carry the tag line, "Fly EST. Unless You're Afraid."

Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which has registered market-share gains with its Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath promotions, is introducing the Heavenly Toilet.

The heart of the Heavenly Toilet is a revolutionary dual-plumbing system that allows the user to choose the water supply employed for each flush. Starwood says each of its Heavenly Toilets will be equipped with plumbing that allows guests to choose either sparkling or still water when they flush.

"Guests are more discerning today," explained a Starwood executive. "They choose the water they drink at a meal and they want mineral waters, not tap water, at their table. We think guests will appreciate the ability to choose the mineral water they use in private, too."

Although it was not immediately confirmed, Starwood sources say that the hotel company is negotiating an exclusive contract with the San Pellegrino group of Italy to provide the waters. Heavenly Toilets will be plumbed with both San Pellegrino brand sparkling water and Panna still water. "Pellegrino will be able to brand the taps with their labels," a Starwood source said. "We think it will be a groundbreaking cross-marketing arrangement that will benefit both sides."

Starwood, which operates hotels under the Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis and Four Points brands, says Heavenly Toilets will also be outfitted with seven-ply bathroom tissue; cushioned toilet seats; and jasmine-scented votive candles.

Quickly running out of places on the planet where they could open more coffee bars, the Starbucks chain has purchased bankrupt United Airlines in a bold move to expand its coffee culture to the skies.

According to documents filed with United's bankruptcy court, Starbucks will inject $2,155.49 into United in exchange for an 82 percent share of the carrier. Unsecured creditors will receive coupons valid for a free Frappuchino. Secured creditors of the bankrupt airline will receive one pound of Starbucks whole-bean House Blend for every $10 million in debt.

"We think the air is the next logical step for Starbucks," a company executive explained at a hastily called press conference at one of the 65 Starbucks shops on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, United's hometown. "And we have novel plans for United. We're going to market air travel much as we market coffee."

Sources at the coffee retailer said that United and its subsidiaries--United Express and the soon-to-be-launched Ted--will eventually be renamed "Joe." Several Starbucks officials say that the company is considering a plan to eliminate ticket sales altogether and give away all its seats. Planes will be converted to Starbucks-like shops where customers can buy coffee, coffee-related concoctions, snacks, light meals and Starbucks merchandise.

"United especially appealed to us because of its long-haul routes to Asia, Europe and Latin America," one Starbucks executive said. "Do you know how much money we can make per passenger flying nonstop from Chicago-to-Tokyo? Think of how many lattes and Chicken Caesar salads passengers will buy on a flight that long! And with our markups, there's just no need to charge them airfare. If you give them a comfy chair and Wi-Fi access, they'll spend thousands on espresso before they cross the International Date Line."

This column originally appeared at

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