The Brancatelli File for 2003

joe December 18: Christmas Cheer
Let's consult the frequent-flying ghost of Christmas still to come and see what lies ahead in 2004: US Airways sells all its planes and lays off its entire workforce to cut costs; Northwest starts a low-fare carrier called EST and rips lavatories and galleys out of the fleet; Starwood launches the Heavenly Toilet with a choice of sparkling or still flushes; Starbucks buys United Airlines. All these are cheery holiday parodies that ring eerily true.

December 11: King of the Road, Jerk of the Flight
How would you like this week's humbling dose of cosmic truth? Via a wickedly funny, but undoubtedly apocryphal, story making the rounds of the Internet? Or with a sad, but true, tale of life on the road witnessed by your frequent-flying reporter? 'Tis the season for giving, so let me give you both. Who knows, we may actually learn two lessons this week.

December 4: Nobody Asked Me, But...
I'm gonna miss overpaid Leo Mullin at Delta. ... I'll tell you why United and US Airways have stopped crowing about their on-time performance. ... I'm wondering why so many new hotels are opening in saturated Miami. ... I've noticed several interesting business-travel tidbits on The Simpsons and in Bend It Like Beckham. All these pearls and more.

November 20: Plenty to Be Thankful For on the Road
What's rarer: A good Thanksgiving Day song or something to be thankful for on the road? I can only think of one T-Day song, but business travelers have plenty to be thankful for. Here are your thankful thoughts on everything from the rocking chairs at Charlotte and the bell captain in Amsterdam who buys tulips for frequent guests to the joy of understanding spouses and the view from Hong Kong's Star Ferry.

November 13: Less for Them Isn't More for Us
This has always been the frequent flyer's equivalent of the chicken-or-the-egg riddle: Do the big airlines give $198 leisure travelers $998 worth of service or do $998 full-fare business travelers receive $198 worth of service? During the first days of deregulation, the airlines could claim that $198 leisure travelers received all the perks accorded to the $998 business traveler. But now airlines are giving leisure flyers less and claiming that it means more for business travelers. But I don't see how less for someone else translates into more for me.

November 6: Dumb and Dumber at the Airport
Who's dumber: The business traveler who can't work or drive his car because he packed his keys and laptop computer in a checked bag that an airline has lost? Or a lost-luggage clerk who, after locating a "mishandled" bag at an airport just 75 miles away, proposes returning it to a traveler via a two-flight, 1,160-mile, bad-weather journey through the hub airport that misdirected the luggage in the first place?

October 30: My Sure-Fire Holiday Travel Tips
How will frequent flyer and holiday travelers survive and co-exist until the end of the first week of January, the traditional end of the end-of-the-year holiday rush? Here are a baker's dozen of my best suggestions. The more you fly, the more you know this stuff. But it never hurts to read the list and check it twice.

October 23: Something Exhausted in the Air
I recently booked a transatlantic coach segment on a Big Six airline flying a seasonal leisure-travel route just to see what I could see. I had no agenda, no particular place to be and no opinion of what I would find. For better or worse, I just wanted to take a look at the status quo with a fresh eye. And what I found didn't repel me so much as bore me. I didn't disembark after nine hours angry, but apathetic. The entire flight was an exercise in physical, emotional, creative and operational exhaustion.

October 16: The Self-Evident Truth About CAPPS II
I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is none of the government's business where I fly. I am an American citizen. It is my God-given right to travel in this country without any interference from the government. I have not and will not grant the government the right to profile me as I travel from one place to another in this country. I have not and will never grant the government the right to decide, based solely on random statistics and irrelevant data, whether I am permitted to fly. And neither should you.

September 25: Hearing the News Ain't Like Being There
It was Melanie who once wrote that hearing the news ain't like being there. Well, for all the grief, business travel has given me the chance to be there when major events have happened around the world. It's the one true thing about business travel: Nothing's like being there. Frequent flyers feel it. And everything's real because it's happening to us.

September 18: The Right Rant for the Right Outrage
Continental reinvented the elite levels of its frequent-flyer program this week. It's a good move for the airline and for most business travelers. But even when the airlines do the right thing for themselves and the business travelers who are their most profitable customers, the Big Six show how small-minded they are and how stupid they think we are. In fact, the whole shameful affair at Continental this week is a textbook example of how the Big Six are destroying themselves.

September 11: 9-11
It is two years now, but it could be two decades or two minutes or two millennia. This is what I think I know about 9-11. Frankly, it isn't very much at all.

September 4: Irrational Exuberance About Business Travel
Have you noticed that Labor Day weekend has become the emotional firewall of business travel? We take the weekend off, make believe we're normal and expel all the bad vibes of another lousy summer on the road. But now that we're back for more, allow me to rave about a few wonderful items: Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina; the beach cottages at Hawaii's Turtle Bay Resort; and the revived Laptop Lane chain.

September 1: A Visit 'Home' to Oahu
A long time ago, and far too briefly, I lived in Hawaii. And every time I come back, I remember how much I miss it. Mostly, I miss Oahu. It has everything I want. Herewith, some notes from my recent visit "home." I've got details on a revived North Shore resort, a comfort-food joint other chefs love and the brilliance of George Mavrothalassitis.

August 28: When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers
Like most road warriors, I have compiled a good list of dos, don't and rules for living on the fly. But repetition breeds sloppiness and even savvy frequent travelers sometimes break their own rules of the road. I speak from very recent experience. I've had a couple of bad trips lately and I've rued the rules I've broken.

August 21: A Funny Kind of Closure on Lockerbie
After more than 14 years of denials, Muammar Qaddafi's regime has admitted that Libya was involved in the murder of 270 passengers on Pan Am 103. Sadly, the reception given to the Libyan admission was as tepid as the response to the news two years ago of the conviction of one of the perpetrators. It's a funny kind of closure for one of the most notorious and frightening acts of terrorism in travel history.

August 14: The Ultimate On-the-Road Internet Access Guide
The pace of business travel has become so frantic that being out of touch for even a second is almost unthinkable. Here's my current guide to staying connected virtually anywhere you are on the road. Regardless of whether you prefer wired or wireless, laptop or alternate device, here's how to get online wherever you are.

August 7: Where to Eat Near the Airport
There's been a blizzard of stories recently telling weary, hungry frequent flyers where to eat at airports. Well, you know what? I don't want to eat at airports. Airports are depressing and crowded and full of people whose taste buds have been pummeled into fast-food submission. I fancy myself an expert at finding great places to eat near the airport.

July 31: Time to Cash Out
Allow me to offer you this bit of practical advice: Cash your frequent-flyer miles. Cash them as soon as you can. Cash them today, because tomorrow they are guaranteed to be worth less. The business cycle of the Big Six is eroding the practical value of your miles as each day passes. Here's how and why you should cash out.

July 24: Don't Worry, Be Happy
To hell with bad news this week. Life on the road stinks and it'll stink again next week. This week, though, let's get happy. Let's talk about what's good about life on the road. Tell me what you like about business travel. Meanwhile, here's what I like about life on the road.

July 17: Four Columns in One
Every one of the following news items merits its own column, complete with snarky remarks, brilliant analysis and a cascade of arch observations. Unfortunately, I only write one column a week, so I've got to squeeze these four items into one little packet: Virgin Atlantic is turning business-class beds sideways; American cuts its St. Louis hub in half; the Millenium Hilton reopens at Ground Zero; and the TSA suffers another misstep on shoes.

July 10: Bare Knuckles and Iron Fists
A federal appeals court last week upheld a federal district judge who says that "bare knuckle competition" by the Big Six against start-up carriers is just good business. I say it isn't. I say we, as a nation, should make sure that the Big, Sick Six cannot turn "bare knuckle" competition into iron-fisted control of the skies.

June 26: The Summer Travel Agenda
There's going to be lots of travel news this summer--and a lot of it is totally predictable. In fact, the agenda is largely knowable right now. Read about the coming crunch at security checkpoints; which airlines will melt down; where the summer deals are; and why the dollar's decline and airline schedule changes will generate lots of media coverage.

June 19: I Like the TSA, But I Hate CAPPS II
Someone needs to step up and defend the Transportation Security Administration and I'm happy to do it because I think the TSA has done a great job under impossible circumstances. But I wish someone over there would read the Bill of Rights again because its temporarily derailed CAPPS II passenger-screening plan is despicably intrusive.

June 12: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Nobody asked me, but I've got some quick opinions about a lot of things: the blizzard of leisure-travel discounts; the stupid frequent-flyer promotions; John Cleese, Eddie Izzard and Rowan Atkinson; $5-a-gallon gas at car-rental firms; the "axis of evil" code-share between Continental, Northwest and Delta; and a couple of dozen more.

June 5: Giving an Inch and Charging Three Yards
The bad news: Despite what American Airlines claims, More Room in Coach is dead, on every flight and at every seat. The good news: American's decision to cap fares on some routes presages a fairer, flatter pricing structure. The coulda-woulda-shoulda: American could have made More Room work if only it wouldn't have tried to charge $311 for every extra inch of seat pitch it offered.

May 29: Mars, Venus, Men, Women and Business Travel
Here's a very interesting and vaguely disturbing fact: One of the best things about business travel is escaping your spouse and your loved ones and ditching the humdrum routine of hearth and home. Hey, folks, that ain't me talking. You have been saying that to me in the witty and eye-opening commentary you send me from around the world.

May 15: It's Still the Fares, Stupid
Many carriers have raised their fares by $5 each way. But why should that surprise you? According to a chart I've pulled together, walk-up fares on major routes have risen four times faster than the Consumer Price Index over the last 25 years. And business fares have risen five times faster than the price of a good bottle of Champagne since 1978.

May 8: The Future of Business Travel
I have seen the future of business travel. It is in London, which has pulled off the entire airport-to-city-to-hotel connection. You can now go from the luggage carousel at Heathrow to the lobby of Hilton's newest deluxe hotel in central London in 20 minutes. That's less time than it takes to get to a Heathrow hotel using the airport shuttle bus.

May 1: Vox Populii on the Axis of Excess
We need to move on from the distasteful and distressing issue of corporate governance and executive compensation at the Big Six carriers. But you sent me more than 2,500 irate E-mails about the topic, so it's clear that you need to vent just a little bit. Here are your best comments--at least the best comments without obscenities.

April 24: The Axis of Excess
You can't watch the unfolding saga of corporate greed and malfeasance in the executive suites of the Big Six airlines without immediately thinking of snappy joke lines. But this is not funny. While the greedy, amoral men who run the nation's largest carriers are looting their carriers, shareholder equity is being destroyed, good jobs are being lost, surviving rank-and-filers must bear draconian pay cuts, taxpayer dollars are being squandered and a huge portion of the airline infrastructure has disintegrated.

April 10: Your Dispatches From the Road
I turn the column over to you because I believe no one writes with as much wit and conviction about life on the road as you do. You're offering up insights on hotel tipping; low-fare carriers versus The Big Six; the value (or lack of value) of being a super-elite frequent flyer; and many more topics. Boy, you guys are good!

April 3: What a Concept: A Profitable Airline
Aer Lingus of Ireland has not only survived the shark-infested North Atlantic, the challenge of uber-discounter Ryanair and the perilous months after 9/11, it has rung up a net profit of about $38 million in 2002. It has done what America's Big, Stupid Six hasn't had the guts or the smarts to do: Look at air travel realistically and transform its assumptions about how to function in the 21st Century.

March 27: Just the Facts on Big Six Management
Every once in a while, a business traveler asks me to curb my commentary about the bosses of the Big Six and just give facts. Fair 'nuff. Here's a whole column of facts about Big Six managers without my input. Some previews: Continental's chief executive gave himself an 82 percent raise last year. And Delta's chief paid himself $13 million, the equivalent of $1 million for every $100 million in losses.

March 20: Travel in the Time of War
What follows is my best stab at knowing the unknowable about business travel in the days and weeks to come. It is hardly exhaustive and subject to almost immediate change as the news from the Middle East becomes clearer. But here's my best assessment about travel in the time of war.

March 13: Gordo's Two-Sentence Autopsy for the Big Six
Read these two sentences from Continental chief Gordon Bethune: "If you have to be in San Francisco for a presentation tomorrow, you are going. If I say it's $1,200 or it's $800, you are still going." Amazing, huh? Bethune's comments are perfectly illustrative of what is destroying the Big Six. In fact, it could be their autopsy and their epitaph.

March 6: Here They Come Again
What happens to the Big Six airlines if and when we take up arms against Iraq? Well, no secret there. They'll whine, pout and demand another taxpayer-funded bailout. Since the Big Six will start lying and spinning any day now, here's a preemptive strike against spending any more of the nation's tax money on these losers.

February 27: When News Breaks, We Fix It
No screeds this week, just "breaking news" that has just crawled its way across my desk: United Airlines is planning to launch 307 low-fare airlines; Iraq Airways wants taxpayer-funded Congressional aid if war breaks out; Starwood launches "X" hotels; the State Department issues a Travel Warning for domestic travel; Northwest reaches a code-share deal with Greyhound Bus Lines; and more shocking parodies!

February 20: Life With Laptop
Life with laptop today is like taking your boss on a business trip: Both tend to be cranky and demanding, both inevitably force you to change your travel patterns and there are some moments when you'll wish you'd left them back home. Here are my current ten commandments for traveling with your laptop. You're on your own with your boss.

January 30: Why Can't the Big Six KISS?
The Big, Sick Six airlines are dying because they have forgotten one of the cardinal rules of any business: Keep It Simple, Stupid. They have strayed so far from KISS that, beyond the Byzantine fares, the rotten attitude, the logic-defying rules and the lousy service, travelers are revolting and going where it's simple.

January 23: What You Can Learn About Business Travel From Sam, The Froot Loops Toucan
Dazed and confused by this week's astonishing news that three carriers will defy the Transportation Department and create an outlaw code-share alliance, I inadvertently turned down the wrong aisle of my local supermarket and found myself communing with Tony the Tiger and the other demented denizens of the cereal world. It turned out to be a fortuitous diversion. You can learn a lot about the cupidity of the major airlines from Sam, the Froot Loops toucan.

January 16: Fresh and Pithy
I've flown about 25,000 miles since Christmas Day, mixing and matching airlines, routes and hubs, crisscrossing the nation on very short notice and flying without the time to think strategically. That's given me some fresh perspective on life on the road. And a few pithy observations about where we are right now when it comes to airlines and airports.

January 7: It's a Wonderful Life (On the Road)
Fat Boy the Frequent Flyer and his wife always spent Christmas Eve in a fancy New York hotel and lived the lush life over the holidays. But not this year. His wife was 5,000 miles away, stuck in a shabby motel without a phone and shuttling to a hospital to care for her ill father. Fat Boy was trying to catch up, flying an impossible, three-flight, continent-spanning, ocean-hopping Christmas Day itinerary.

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