The Brancatelli File



January 13, 2005 -- Flying into Los Angeles to make a connection on Monday, I stepped off the plane at LAX just as the tail end of an announcement informed some passengers that their flight to Palm Springs was now going to be delayed four hours.

I smirked as I made my way to the airport club to wait for my connection to Honolulu. What kind of fool flies to Palm Springs in rainy weather instead of driving the 109 miles, I asked myself.

About an hour later, as I was heading toward the gate of my connecting flight, I caught the end of another announcement. This time the Palm Springs passengers were being told that their flight was cancelled and a bus had been arranged to drive them to Palm Springs Airport.

Serves them right, I thought. Who tries to fly a 109-mile route these days?

About a dozen hours later, when I finally settled into my hotel room, I flipped on the tube, turned to CNN and saw the horrifying pictures of the La Conchita mudslide. While I was winging it from New York on an all-day itinerary on Monday, the rains and snows that I had been joking about with some California friends on Sunday had turned deadly.

Welcome to life in the bubble of business travel, I thought to myself. For an entire day, my life was consumed with my own flights and my own connections and my own cab rides and my own hotel rooms. Life and death matters were being decided, the earth was literally moving beneath our feet again, but nothing penetrated the bubble of business travel.

We all live our lives in the bubble of business travel when we're on the road and I hate it. It makes us selfish and hard and concerned only about the menial details of our own lives. It is the price we pay for the life we lead. But it stinks. And it's one of the really lousy things about living our lives on the road.

On the day after the horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, I got a few E-mails from readers in the region. Flights had been restored to Phuket, one said, so it didn't look like things were as bad as they seemed. Hey, I'm in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur and things are fine, another read, so things are okay.

Nothing was okay, of course, but how could they know? How could they know about the 150,000 dead and the lives destroyed? They were in the bubble of business travel. The bubble makes us selfish and blind and concerned only about the menial details of our own lives. And, most of the time, we don't even know we're being selfish and blind because we have no idea of what's happening in the world when we are on the road.

I don't mean to sound stupid. I am fully aware of what an enlightening experience business travel can be. Business travel, if we do it right, actually forces us out of our cubicles and into the lives and times of people and places that we'd otherwise never experience. For every rotten flight I've had, there's been a remarkable experience in a new place. Every mediocre hotel has been offset by a chance meeting with a fascinating person. Every smelly rental car has been balanced by a dazzling day poking around a town I never thought I'd visit. Every dinner of a Payday bar and a Diet Coke from the vending machine has been matched by a culinary treat somewhere in the world. I have heard the call to prayers in Abu Dhabi and the church bells peel in the Marienplatz in Munich. Business travel was the vehicle for that. I don't ever forget that.

I met my wife on a business trip. That alone balances any case against business travel I could ever make.

I have seen the wonders of the natural world and the wonders of the man-made world. Almost always on a business trip. I am looking at Diamond Head from the window of my Honolulu hotel room as I write this. What, except for business travel, would have allowed a knockaround kid from Brooklyn to be sitting in Honolulu looking at that awe-inspiring site?

But this living in a bubble stuff stinks. I still don't know what those people were doing at LAX waiting for a 109-mile flight. But I am having trouble knowing that I was just passing through a town in the middle of a life-shattering nightmare for other human beings.

Life goes on. Or it doesn't. There was nothing I could do for those poor folks in La Conchita on Monday when I was passing through LAX. Just as there was nothing I could do for those folks had I stayed in my office in New York on Monday.

Intellectually, I know that. But, emotionally, I can't forget that I was living in the bubble of business travel on Monday and just a few miles away the world was taking another cruel turn.

And if you're looking for a payoff here at the end of this column, forget it. I've got no sage advice. There's no moral. I've got no answers.

Only the observation that I started with: You and I spend too much of our lives in the bubble of business travel.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.