The Brancatelli File for 2005

joe December 22: 'Tis the Season to Prognosticate
Chances are you've just gotten home and are looking forward to some much-needed holiday R&R. You deserve a break today--and all the way through the New Year. So what do I have? A column about what to expect in 2006. Sorry, but someone has to do it. So here are thoughts about the state of frequent-flyer plans next year; the plethora of new international flights and super-regional jets; the state of national security versus a business traveler's civil rights; and other topics.

December 15: In the End, the Reason for the Season
I have said this before. I will say it again: 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. So we have a responsibility to remember the reason for the season and give something back.

December 8: Nobody Asked Me, But...
This week, pithy and informative thoughts on the Alpizar case in Miami; the TSA's misguided new checkpoint rules; Virgin Atlantic, which says it has money now; why you shouldn't accept vouchers from bankrupt airlines; the high cost of checked luggage; Z-Class fares and about a dozen other topics that crossed my desk this week. Once again, I try to channel Jimmy Cannon.

December 1: Can We Beat the No-Seat Scenario?
My cat Dusty thinks it's nifty that Continental Airlines gave a lost kitty from Wisconsin a ride home from Paris in business class this week. I just wish Continental and the other airlines were as generous with members of their frequent-flyer programs. The facts are ugly: High load factors and deep capacity cutbacks mean that the Big Six carriers are running out of seats to make good on their frequent-flyer award liabilities. Here's how to protect yourself and make sure your miles don't become worthless.

November 17: Planes, Trains and Peanuts
What do in-flight peanuts have to do with Delta's bankruptcy? Only the bankruptcy-court judge seems to know. What happens when an airline bumps an aviation lawyer and holds his checked-baggage for three days? Continental found out in court this week. Remember those bridges to nowhere in Alaska? They've now become money for nothing. And what is going on at Amtrak? Seems like no one knows the answer to that one.

November 10: The Dumbest Airline in American History
None of the carriers in my Library of Dumb Dead Airlines has outdone newly bankrupt Independence Air for sheer stupidity. It has flown the wrong planes to the wrong places with the wrong schedules at the wrong prices. It has failed in big cities and small towns. Failed flying North to South and East to West. Failed flying big, new jets and small, old ones. In just 18 months, Flyi has gone from profitable commuter carrier to a start-up failure and blown $500 million or so along the way.

November 3: Life on the Road by the Numbers
The Transportation Department has just published the on-time ratings for September and the good news is that the airlines are running a little better now after a very tough summer. But the devil is in the details and the DOT report reveals some very devilish details: Northwest has dropped to dead last in the nation for on-time operations; Commuter carriers are losing checked bags with alarming frequency; AirTran and JetBlue are improving, but Alaska Airlines still lags; and many more nuggets about airports, airlines and life on the road by the numbers. I've slogged through all 45 pages of the report and have the useful details.

October 27: Action Over the North Atlantic
Even if you never fly internationally, pay attention to what's happening on the New York-London route. Two new airlines are pursuing a pair of worthy goals that have domestic as well as Anglo-American application. Eos, which took off last week, bills itself as a premium-class airline for business travelers who need and want extra-special treatment and are willing to pay for it. Maxjet, which launches next week, is bringing the low-fare model to an all-business-class airline.

October 20: How to Sleep Cheap(er) in New York
Lately you've had two choices when it comes to New York lodging: outrageously priced hotel rooms at $400 or $800 or more a night--or a sold-out hotel. But now a new slew of "mid-priced" hotels with familiar brand names is flooding the city. Of course, mid-priced is a relative thing in New York and even the new Courtyards, Hamptons, Hilton Garden Inns and other "focused-service" brands are commanding nightly rates above $300. That's if they're not sold out, too.

October 6: Nobody Asked Me, But...
I've got some pithy thoughts about the skyrocketing cost of hotel rooms--and the hotel industry's gloating about it. Also some random thoughts on why I like racing through airports in October (honest!); the sinking price of laptops; Gordon Bethune's once-upon-a-time claim that we'd pay what HE wanted us to pay; and American Airlines' off-kilter offer of "lifetime" membership in its Admirals Club. All that and much more.

September 29: This New Is Wit-Less
It's been such a busy week of news that there's no room for my usual witty and urbane banter. So let's get right to the wit-less news: the chaotic contraction of Independence Air; Northwest's abnormal "normal" operations; the witch hunt surrounding the Concorde crash in 2000; the unraveling of the TSA; and American Airlines' new fee-collecting kiosk.

September 22: I'm Still Here (Unfortunately)
This column marks the completion of four years of JoeSentMe, the "temporary" site I launched because I thought the commercial sites aimed at business travelers had abandoned us after 9/11. I'm still here because they still have. I live in hope that some commercial operation will come along and replace this site, but, for now, some four-year perspective on fare simplification; the big airlines and the big department stores; and the 2001 bailout that is now dwarfed by the bailout we've giving the Big Six by allowing them to dump their pension liability on us.

September 15: Empty
This, I believe, is true: You and I and all of us who live our lives on the road have never truly come to terms with 9/11. We haven't grieved enough. There's never been time. We've never reflected enough. The rush of the news and our lives has made that impossible. But I vowed to myself, four years on, that I would look 9/11 squarely in its horrific face and tell you about it. So I went to Ground Zero last week and came back empty.

September 8: How We Can Help With the Challenge Ahead
It is almost four years since 9/11 and more than a week since Hurricane Katrina. You tell me whether America has fully and honestly dealt with either. Yet the question before us today must be how we, as business travelers, can help. I have five suggestions to turn our miles, points, dollars and time into practical, useful and unique longer-term solutions. If they make sense to you, write to the airlines, hotel chains and credit card companies and ask them to implement these ideas.

September 1: Random Thoughts on a Tragedy
Some random thoughts about this tragedy. How to house refugees. What some society will think of this a millennia from now. Who will mobilize the American people? The people who died because it was the end of the month and they didn't have ready cash for gas to evacuate. The folly of allowing the Homeland Security Department to run a natural-disaster response. These thoughts and more, for what they may be worth.

August 25: The Lying Game
As Northwest's egregious claims during the strike prove once again, the travel industry lies. It lies all the time. The lying has risen to the level of performance art. And business travelers know it. Some thoughts about the fibs that have become part of the fabric of life on the road. (Some funny tales, too, and very little about Northwest, thank heavens…)

August 18: Breaking News on Northwest Airlines
The strike at Northwest Airlines requires me to post news as it develops. Naturally, the most recent news items are at the top, so this column does read like a Pinter play: backward. And despite its backward-running nature (much like the Big Six airlines), I'll update the column as news demands

August 11: Speechless
I know you come to this little portion of Cyberspace in search of my brilliant insight, my snappy wit and my laser-focused logic. But I don't know what to make of this week's news items. They all seem so bizarre and mind-numbingly inexplicable that I have nothing to say. So I'll just pass along the news about the two Alaskan bridges to nowhere that cost more than what we've spent on transit security since 9/11; the airline executive who wants 11 percent of the carrier's operating profit as a bonus; a new kind of cheap hotel in London; what an airline violating your privacy is required to pay; and what the federal government says it can do if you just happen to be changing planes somewhere in America.

August 4: Settling for a Miracle on the Road
At about noon on Tuesday, the day nobody died in Toronto, I wrote myself a note as a teaser for a future column. "What," I scribbled, "would it take to make life on the road fun again?" Five hours later, "fun" was off the table. We all settled for a miracle. The Miracle of Flight 358. Everybody lived. Everyone got out. It doesn't get better than that on the road.

July 28: Isn't This Where I Logged On?
This is the beginning of the ninth year of the Internet-specific version of The Brancatelli File. So let's use my electronic anniversary to examine at least a few of the issues that have not gotten their due in the past few years. We'll discuss the new reality of business-class fares, the state of Amtrak, the essentially failed "private screener" airport experiment and the return of the Axis of Excess among top airline management. There's also a way to track some of the more than 200 airlines that have failed in the last five years. That includes two carriers that folded this week.

July 21: Nobody Asked Me, But...
Herewith some pithy commentary on the state of things: in-flight cellphones; the Wright Amendment; how airlines treat employees and passengers; transatlantic airfares; airline alliances and what we should and shouldn't allow; terrorism, Iraq and mini-flashlights; the Supreme Court and the cool chevrons on Rehnquist's robes; the newsman you should watch and the sportswriter you can't read.

July 14: Déjà Vu All Over Again
The looming battle at Newark Airport between Continental and JetBlue would be riveting and entertaining--if we hadn't seen it all before and if we didn't already know how it will all turn out. Continental will huff, puff, bully, bellow, slash prices, flood the market with seats, shoot itself in both corporate feet and, in the end, lose money, lose face and lose the battle. JetBlue will kick the tar out of Continental on the leisure routes it is launching and use them as a springboard to transcontinental and other routes from Newark. Like Yogi Berra, who doesn't live far from Newark, once said: déjà vu all over again.

June 30: What's Next on the Road This Summer
As we break for the Fourth of July weekend, we need some good news. Unfortunately, I ain't got any. I have seen the immediate future of business travel and things do not look peachy. The rest of this year is going to bring chaos on the fare front--and not the TRADITIONAL chaos; weirdness from full-service hotels; a spate of malarkey and demagoguery after the inevitable plane crash; a revival of the mindless passenger's "rights" movement; and more idiocy on the Amtrak front.

June 23: The Fog of Fare War
During the 169 days since Delta Air Lines introduced SimpliFares, the Big Six and their alternate-carrier brethren have been in an almost constant state of fare war. And the fog of fare war makes rational analysis impossible. But I do have some tips if you're buying tickets just now--as long as you understand that nothing is written in stone and the pricing princes at the airlines have gone mad from battle fatigue.

June 16: Reality Check
United Airlines chief executive Glenn Tilton earns $550 an hour. Business1, his new program to compensate you if certain O'Hare flights run late, values YOUR time at about $10 an hour. Want some other reality checks? Then I'll explain why the big cellphone companies DON'T want you to use your phone in-flight; why the TSA is running so poorly; and why you're REALLY getting that blizzard of frequent-flyer credit card solicitations.

June 9: Where to Go Next This Summer
We've hit the wall again, haven't we? One more flight, one more bad hotel, one more idiotic indignity on the road and we're gonna blow. We need a vacation NOW. I figure you don't need me to tout Italy or Hawaii or Paris or Hong Kong, so here are my choices for where to go NEXT this summer: Hamburg; Tahiti; Krakow; Singapore; and, yes, Pittsburgh.

June 2: One World, One Phone? That's One Big Fantasy.
What we want is simple enough: one mobile phone with one mobile phone number that works around the corner, around the nation and around the world. But what we can have is a lot more complicated: a patchwork of mobile phones on competitive worldwide mobile systems that work some times, in some places, under certain conditions. Yet there is a way to have a "world phone"--if you accept and understand the limitations.

May 26: The 2005 Summer Flying Agenda
Welcome to the 2005 summer flying season, which is shaping up to be one of the most crowded, most delayed, most annoying and most exasperating in history. A near-record 200 million travelers will be jamming airports and facing shriveled, demoralized airline workforces and fleets of delay-inducing regional jets. What are weary business travelers to do to protect themselves? Here are my ten commandments of summer flying. Heed them. The sanity you save this summer may be your own.

May 19: Air Frankenstein
Since I assume you've read the headline, I'm confident that you now know all you need to know about--and have a lovely mental picture of--the merger of America West and US Air. But if you have a few minutes, you can check out my analysis of the very weird combination that was announced after the markets closed on Thursday.

May 12: The $30 Billion Question About the Big Six
You know that United dumped its pensions on us this week and past and present United employees took an effective 50 percent cut in their retirement plans. But did you know that United CEO Glenn Tilton, the highest-paid Big Six CEO, was exempt? His $4.5 million retirement is in a court-approved trust fund. But the bigger issue is this: We may eventually have $30 billion of Big Six pension liability stapled to our tax bills. Do we really want to take on that kind of burden and leave pirates like Tilton in control of the Big Six?

April 28: How to Fly to Italy Cheap(er)
It's a measure of the enduring appeal of La Dolce Vita that almost nothing will keep American business travelers from going to Italy for some much-needed R&R. Nothing except high airfares, or, more specifically, outrageously high airfares. Given the cost, I'd say give Italy the boot this year. But I know you people. You want Italy no matter what. So as a public service, here are my very best tips for flying to Italy cheap(er) this year.

April 21: Nobody Asked Me, But...
I'm feeling extra-snarky this week, so I have some pithy comments on the possibility of an America West-US Airways merger; the hotel brand formerly known as Sheraton; the Papal "chimney cam" and the heresy of Galileo; the value of airline consolidation and the scourge of maintenance outsourcing; a suggestion for what to do with the Stanley Cup; and an airline named Snalskjutsen. (Honest, there really is an airline called Snalskjutsen.)

April 14: High Oil Prices and Low Business-Class Fares
The price that you're paying at the pump for gasoline probably makes you angry. That's understandable. The price that the airlines are paying for jet fuel just makes them dumber. I guess that's understandable, too. Why else would they be slashing international business-class fares? Here's what's happening and why you probably shouldn't fly coach or cash miles for an overseas flight this summer. Now is the time to buy a business-class seat at an incredibly low fare.

April 7: Small Type and Big Fees Overseas
Let's not talk about the lying, thieving Big Six this week. Let's talk instead about the lying, thieving bankers who issue our credit and charge cards and banking and debit cards. Buried in that blizzard of small-type "disclosure" notices you've been receiving lately is the news that the cards are ramping up the fees whenever you use them to get local currencies or make charges overseas.

March 31: Hotels Great and Cheap
The airlines usually get the ink about life on the road. But this week let's try to redress the balance a bit. I've been stacking up files and observations and little notes about some hotels I've visited lately. Hotels great and cheap. Hotels lavish and sleek. Hotels modern and traditional. Hotels international and domestic. Let me tell you about a few.

March 17: Top Ten 'Tiltons' for a Better Life on the Road
We must discuss some steps you need to take to protect yourself emotionally and financially on the road at this moment in time. So here are what I call my Top Ten "Tiltons" for a Better Life on the Road Now. I named them in honor of Glenn Tilton, chief executive of United. Why? We learned this week that he got a bonus of more than $300,000 last year. And given the horrendous job he's doing at United, I admire his survival skills. We business travelers need his kind of tenacity on the road.

March 10: A Taxing Frequent-Flyer Promotion
Now here's a truly awful idea: Charging your tax payments to a credit card just so you can earn frequent-flyer miles. It is the painful and pluperfect example of why you should never, ever change your buying patterns just to earn a few miles. We've also got some tips on what you SHOULDN'T spend your miles on.

March 3: Airlines in LieLand
You and I wake up most mornings of our working lives and head to an airport knowing that we're about to be lied to by whatever airline we happen to be flying that particular day. But if you and I know that the airlines lie, and that they lie all the time, why don't my compatriots in the mainstream media know it? I ask because a Department of Transportation report issued Wednesday exposes US Airways' public claims about its Christmas meltdown to be a tissue of lies and distortions. Yet the credulous mass media was once again suckered into reporting airline fabrications as gospel truth.

February 24: Assessing the Value of Frequent-Flyer Miles
You have a simple and eminently logical question: What is the value of a frequent-flyer mile? I have an equally simple and not particularly edifying answer: Who the heck knows? But I did some homework based on current fares and real-time award availability and I can say with great confidence that a mile is worth 4 cents…or 1.5 cents…or 1.15 cents…or eight-tenths of a cent…or less. Read why I'm still confused--you probably will be, too--even after all the homework.

February 17: The Willy Loman in All of Us
Business travelers are not Willy Loman. Business travel is too expensive for companies to send anyone but their best and brightest on the road. Frequent flyers represent the American Dream. We live our lives on the road to create value, to create jobs, to create better lives for ourselves, our families, our companies and, yes, even our country. So how come, a week after the death of Arthur Miller, the playwright who gave us Willy Loman, the miserable, pitiable traveling salesman from Death of a Salesman, I'm thinking that there really is a little Willy Loman in all of us?

February 10: Is Amtrak Finally at the End of the Line?
From red state and blue, left wing and right, Congress banded together this week to protest President Bush's proposal to strip Amtrak of its funding. This uprising across the entire spectrum of American politics is exactly why Amtrak needs to die. Amtrak isn't a national passenger rail system. It's a rotting barrel of pork and the stench wafts through every station along the line. With Amtrak gone, the tracks would be clear for discussing serious rail solutions for 21st century America.

February 3: Airline Travel by the Numbers
No opinions this week, fellow travelers. Just the facts. I plowed through a stack of government statistics for 2004 to divine the carriers with the best and worst on-time records; the airlines with the best and worst baggage-handling records; and the airports that can claim the best on-time arrivals or must suffer the scourge of being the worst in the nation. Some of the results will surprise you.

January 27: The Chaos on the Transcons
Whether driven by market share or macho silliness, airlines can't resist the siren's song of the transcons. Which explains why they are the bloodiest financial killing fields in the domestic marketplace. Fares have plummeted: Walk-up flights that once commanded $1,200 one-way are selling for less than $200 now. Almost no one is making money. But there are some interesting developments, including United's new p.s. service, which I tested last week. A full report on the state of the transcons from the Golden Triangle of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco to the slightly less-prestigious other coast-to-coast routes.

January 20: My Fearless Forecasts for the Next 11 Months and 11 Days
The Reuters wire service on Tuesday described the new Airbus A380 as "overweight, overbudget and still on the ground" and I've quickly adopted that sly turn of phrase as my own personal mantra for 2005. So forgive me if I'm just getting around to my own 2005 predictions. But here's what I think will happen at United and Independence Air this year; why there won't be a Virgin America Airlines in 2005 no matter what Richard Branson tells you; and why we can look forward to an entire year of international fare sales.

January 13: Living in 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. 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 while we are on the road. 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.

January 6: Delta's SimpliFares: Not Simple, But Better
There is ample evidence in Delta's so-called SimpliFares system to prove that the pricing wazirs still don't get it. The new structure has too many rules, restrictions, gimmicks and caveats. But SimpliFares IS good news, especially for business travelers who have been pummeled by obscenely high walk-up fares and fleeced by the heinous Saturday-night stay rule. It is a reasonable and a generally honest attempt to fix a pricing system that has been broken since the dawn of airline deregulation.

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