The Brancatelli File



December 15, 2005 -- I have said this before. I will say it again. I will say it whenever anyone asks. I will say it for as long as I have a platform.

When all is said and done, we business travelers live lives of incredible privilege.

Even when our lives on the road stink, in the cosmic totality of things, our complaints are astoundingly trivial. The airlines are stupid. Hotels charge too much. The security lines are too long. The flight is late. The in-flight meal has disappeared. Frequent-flyer miles are hard to cash. Upgrades are hard to get. There are a million fees. The hotel is too far away from our appointment. The limo driver was late. The mobile-phone companies are ludicrous. Our laptops crash and destroy our data.

And I have said this before, too: When all is said and done, business travelers also live lives of denial.

We have mastered the art of looking away when we see homeless people camped out at an airport terminal because that's where they can find a few hours of warmth. We can drive through a slum en route to our business appointments and never think twice about the kids who are ill-fed. We can even turn a blind eye to the street person sleeping on a bed of cardboard in the doorway across the street from the lobby of our $250-a-night hotel.

Our ability to deny is sometimes so complete that we need to have it thrust back in our face before we can regain a sense of reality. I have often told you of a woman who claimed that there were never homeless people in Hawaii. She really thought that the homeless people she saw in Waikiki were vagrants who had been given plane tickets to Honolulu by the city fathers of mainland cities. It was only after I drew an absurd and ridiculous word picture--homeless folks, black plastic bags in the overhead bin, being offered the chicken or the beef on the flight over the Pacific--that she realized the folly of her thinking.

This year, I know, denial is harder to come by. After all, no one can have seen last year's tsunami or this year's hurricanes and still be in denial. This year, the problem is exhaustion. We've all been asked to go to the charity well so often lately that we're mentally drained. Who has the energy to keep giving? How much is enough? Again?

I don't have the answers to those questions. I only have the same question I have every year: How are you going to get beyond your denial and its new partner, exhaustion?

As you sit there, in the midst of another holiday season, staring at these words on the screen of a costly computer, I ask only: What are you doing to help?

It's not my place to preach. You don't surf here to be lectured. And, God knows, I have no right. I live my life on the road in the same haze of privilege and denial and exhaustion as most business travelers.

But I do know the reason for this season. It isn't the presents we are giving, it's about the life we are leading.

We business travelers lead lives of privilege. And even if we've lived other years in denial and are mentally, emotionally and financially exhausted this year, we shouldn't let the holiday season pass without giving something back.

Give back love. Give back cash. For that matter, give back miles and points.

Every airline frequent-flyer program has a mileage-donation program. Hotels and charge cards have points-donation schemes, too. Just call your frequent-flyer service center and ask how to do it and which charitable organizations they sponsor. Or check in directly with your favorite charity. Or do the simplest thing of all: Surf over to the MileDonor site. There is every link you need to contribute.

It has been a tough year. We are tired, exhausted and drained. I heard that from dozens of you just this week as I squeezed in four more flights, three more airports, two more airline lounges and 5,700 more miles. Everyone--flyers, flight attendants, pilots--was counting down the number of flights left this year. We were all looking forward to a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation at our favorite place: home.

And that's the point. We have a home. Maybe we don't see if often enough, but we have one. There's food in the fridge, sheets on a bed, TV and Internet and maybe even a family to reintroduce yourself to.

That, to me, counts as a life of incredible privilege. And it comes with a responsibility to remember the reason for the season.

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