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 The Brancatelli File

joe GOOD NEWS, BUT DON'T
LET IT GET AROUND


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

March 30, 2006 -- You want bad news? I'll give you bad business-travel news.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines launch a combined 13 new routes on Monday--and all of them will be flown with those awful, cramped regional jets. Worse, two of those new RJ routes are actually "downgrades"--in other words, flights that once had real jets but now will be busted down to 44-seat purgatory.

See how easy it is to find bad news about business travel? As Roseanne Rosannadanna said a generation ago, "It's always something…" Come to think of it, the fact that I have to write about Roseanne Rosannadanna as being "a generation ago" is bad news.

But, you know what? Spring is here. I am not on the road today and it is 66 glorious and sunny degrees here at the vast, worldwide headquarters of JoeSentMe.com. A crocus has opened. I get to see Sondheim this weekend. I don't have to fly at all next week. George Mason is in the Final Four. Steroid besotted though it may be, baseball is back.

So let's talk about the good news about business travel today…

NOT ALL SMILES, BUT AT LEAST ONE SMILE
It's amazing that a regional airline that disappeared almost 20 years ago still generates such warm glows of nostalgia and good feelings. But PSA, the once-formidable California-based carrier, is still a favorite of frequent flyers. And one of the things they remember best is the goofy smile that used to be painted on the nose psa of the fuselage of all PSA planes. The smile, and the smiling and fun-loving attitude of PSA's crews, disappeared almost immediately after the airline was gobbled up by US Air in 1987. But a name change, two bankruptcies and another merger later, US Airways is bringing back the PSA smile on at least one plane. In fact, it has revived the entire distinctive PSA livery on one aircraft save, of course, for the name. The return of one smiling plane won't really change anything--US Airways is still an operational hash since the America West merger and its feuding labor groups have literally been in fistfights--but, you know, the smile makes me smile.

THE SMALL SCREEN, EVEN SMALLER ON YOUR LAPTOP
I'm currently testing Slingbox, an innovative little box that routes your home television signal to your laptop anywhere in the world where you have high-speed Internet access. I'll have a more detailed review in coming weeks--there are some quirks that make the Slingbox less intuitive to use than it should be--but today let me recommend wwiTV.com. This free Web site claims to link to about 3,000 live audio and video streams from broadcasters around the world. Hate to miss The National, Canada's national news broadcast? WwiTV.com links you to the stream. Jazzed by Deutsche Welle, the German all-news network? WwiTV gets you to its stream. Nostalgic for ITV's regional news from all corners of Britain? Want RAI24, the all-news Italian network? WwiTV.com's got them. How about Al Jazeera, the controversial pan-Arab news network that originates in Qatar? WwiTV.com has that link, too. WwiTV.com isn't perfect--there are plenty of dead and outdated links--but it's easy to use and it's another example of the Net's ability to bring you almost anything you want from anywhere in the world.

EAT YOUR WAY TO MILES
I'm reluctant to endorse another way to earn frequent-flyer miles since the programs are increasingly less valuable. But I recently enrolled my credit cards in a couple of dining-for-miles program. I know they've been around for years, but I never paid attention to them, primarily because I couldn't be bothered to complicate my dining decisions with mileage considerations. Imagine my surprise when I learned that a half-dozen places I've eaten at lately were participants of these mileage plans and that I earned a few thousand miles for eating what came naturally. Since the dining programs are automated and you don't even have to flash your frequent-flyer card or give your account number to earn the miles, they are totally effortless. And those miles do add up if you entertain and/or eat out frequently. Look at it this way: If the only awards you can claim these days are at the unrestricted level, why not generate as many painless miles as you can? Check your preferred frequent flyer program for details about linking your cards to their dining plan. Most plans are equivalent and offer at least three miles for each dollar charged at participating restaurants.

ANOTHER PHONY-BALONEY FEE FAILS
The big bully on the car-rental block, Hertz, has backed down on another phony-baloney fee. A week ago, the British arm of Hertz said it would charge UK-based renters a no-show fee. Effective April 1, renters who didn't show for their reservation would be charged upwards of $50. But guess what? Hertz reversed gears today. The UK division of Hertz claimed that the no-show fee was an "administrative error" and that "no such policy is being introduced." In plain English, that means many British renters let it be known that they'd find another supplier if Hertz went ahead with the fee. Hertz was also forced to back off another phony-baloney fee--a $2.50 charge just to make a reservation--last year. It's always nice to see the bully get a bloody nose--and get one twice.

I'd like to bring you more good business-travel news, but maybe it's time to come back to reality. Why? Paul Matsen, executive vice president for marketing at Delta Air Lines and the man who green-lighted the carrier's recent "good goes around" advertising campaign, has just disappeared. He's left the airline and his job has been eliminated as part of another housecleaning in Delta's executive ranks. Good, apparently, doesn't go around.

On the other hand, maybe that is good news, too. After all, that "good goes around" campaign was an embarrassing creative effort and an unmitigated financial disaster…

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.