The Brancatelli File



August 31, 2006 -- Cook's Illustrated magazine recently shocked the condiment world when its blind taste-test chose Hunt's as a better-tasting ketchup than Heinz. This cosmic decision, overturning decades of ketchup supremacy by Heinz…

Wait a minute, I think I've gotten my notes mixed up. That's from my food file. Let me grab my business-travel file…

Ah, here it is. I'm writing a catch-up column to bring us up-to-date on all the important business-travel stories that have piled up these last few weeks.

Okay, okay, maybe that isn't as sexy-sounding as the ketchup wars thing, but I assure you that the items below are things you'll need to know before you hit the road after the Labor Day interregnum. And if you don't agree with me, drop me an E-mail and we can talk ketchup after all. I mean, Labor Day barbecue hot dogs are at risk…

It's almost as if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) goes out of its way to annoy us. The TSA changed the carry-on rules again in recent days--but didn't bother to tell us. Now we "are permitted to bring solid cosmetics and personal hygiene items such as lipstick, lip balm and similar solids." In other words, solid stick deodorants are now okay in your carry-on bag, as is ChapStick, but apparently not lip treatments such as Blistex. If you want to see this week's list of what in and what's out at the checkpoints, surf here. You'll be happy to know that eyelash curlers and up to four ounces of "personal lubricants" are okay to carry on, too. But facial cleansers and cricket bats are still contraband.

It's taken weeks, but the slack-jawed travel experts out there have finally begun discussing what we talked about back on August 10: The real problem with the new carry-on rules is that they bar you from carrying on your own supply of water to stay hydrated. And in typical fashion, the airlines have refused to make any changes to how they supply us with water on the plane. All except for Aer Lingus, that is. It now puts a half-liter bottle of water at every seat it flies from its U.S. gateways to Ireland. In other words, there is exactly one airline that gets it and went to the effort to make sure that water is waiting for us when we board the plane.

Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok certainly would have appreciated those exploding, spontaneously combusting batteries on Dell and Apple notebook computers. But SCTV ain't around anymore and millions of business travelers are stuck with these lemons. If you own a Dell laptop and haven't already checked, surf to the Dell Battery Program page. If you have already checked and think your Dell is fine, check again. Dell quietly expanded its recall list this week, but didn't mention it to anyone, least of all its customers. Of course, Dell is a paragon of good communications compared to Apple, whose recall of nearly 1.8 million iBook and PowerBook G4 batteries has been conducted with typical Steve-Jobs-cum-Kremlin secrecy. Oh, and by the way: Qantas has banned all Dell batteries on its flights.

Back in March, we discussed the effort of UNITE, the hotel-workers union, to combat the divide-and-conquer strategy of major hotel chains by attempting to line up city-specific contracts into a national block. That would then allow UNITE to strike nationwide hotel chains on a nationwide basis. That naturally has caused more friction than usual in the city-by-city negotiations that hotel chains conduct with the unions. New York hotels dodged a strike earlier this summer when they settled with UNITE. But next up are Chicago and Honolulu. Many Chicago hotel contracts expire today and workers at Hyatt and Hilton properties there have already authorized a strike if necessary. And three Chicago hotels--the Ritz-Carlton, Allerton Crowne Plaza and Hotel 71--aren't even negotiating. Meanwhile, hotel workers in Toronto and at several Honolulu properties (Hilton Hawaiian Village and four Starwoods) have also voted to strike. So watch carefully for developments in these cities.

America Online made a big deal this summer about its decision to go free for customers with high-speed access. But in typical AOL style, you can't have your access for free without working for it. You have to call them (800-984-6207) and sit through a spiel about why you should continue to pay them after all. The main AOL talking point: What if your high-speed access goes down or isn't available on the road and you need dial-up? Here's the answer you can give: Juno and NetZero have free dial-up plans. So you can go to AOL's free option--if you can get them to answer the phone, of course--and then sign up for a free Juno or NetZero account. Both offer 10 hours of free dial-up access a month. That should be plenty for back-up purposes.

Hyatt announced this week that guests in North America and in the Caribbean now have 24/7 access to the hotels' on-site gyms. Nice perk and long overdue since hotels build the cost of health equipment into their daily rate. Now, at least, you'll have a chance to use the gym on a schedule that works for you.

Here are two security-related stories that really can make you feel uncomfortable. An Air Canada pilot locked himself out of the cockpit on a commuter flight between Ottawa and Winnipeg last weekend. The pilot had left the flight deck to visit the lavatory and the door wouldn't open when he returned. The crew had to remove it from its hinges so the pilot could rejoin the first officer in time to land the plane. And in Morocco, the government says it has discovered that the wives of two pilots at state-owned Royal Air Maroc had been funding radical Islamic terrorist groups.

You gotta hand it to the folks at Amtrak. For years, the president was George Warrington, who kept promising Congress that the terminally ill railroad was just about to become self-supporting. He left in 2002 with Amtrak a few zillion dollars in the red. Amtrak then hired David Gunn, a bumptious bully who kept telling Congress that he'd shut down the railroad unless he got all the money he wanted to keep every one of Amtrak's subsidy-eating long-haul routes running. The Bush Administration sacked him last November. Amtrak finally announced Gunn's replacement this week: Alexander Kummant, a former top executive at Union Pacific, the gigantic freight railroad. What, exactly, Kummant will do at Amtrak isn't known because he couldn't be bothered to show up at the press conference announcing his appointment.

Enjoy your Labor Day. See you next week, same Cybertime, same Cyberspace…

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