The Brancatelli File



October 5, 2006 -- You know how this column works, right? We talk a little, schmooze a little, make a little joke, have a visit, then, eventually, get to what's news in business travel.

There's no time for that this week. Much too much news to report, revisit and digest. So let's get right to it. We can do twice as much schmoozing next week. I promise.

When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) banned liquids and gels in the wee small hours of August 10, a lot of business and leisure travelers suddenly checked their carry-on bags. In fact, the amount of checked bags spiked about 20 percent. But does it really surprise you that the rate of "mishandled" bags jumped by more than that? According to statistics for August released this week by the Transportation Department, the industry's mishandled bag rate jumped to 8.08 per 1,000 passengers compared to 6.40 reports in August of 2005. Among the Big Six, US Airways fared the worst, registering a mishandled baggage rate of 10.33 in August compared to 7.16 last year. Delta Air Lines also fared below the industry average, with a 9.00 rate in August compared to 8.03 last year. But Delta's commuter carriers were much worse: Atlantic Southeast registered a mishandled-bag rate of 21.56 compared to 19.95 last year and Comair was at 14.87, up from 11.31. But the worst year-over-year performance was registered by American Eagle, American Airlines' commuter carrier. Its mishandled bag rate in August zoomed to 16.77 reports per 1,000 passengers compared to 10.83 in August, 2005. Credit should also be given where it is due: Alone among major carriers, Northwest's mishandled-bag rate declined in August. It registered 5.16 reports, down from last year's rate of 5.36.

As I reported in last week's Tactical Traveler, United Airlines has signaled its intention to sell or merge. Fair enough, since the airlines' 38-month odyssey in bankruptcy court and its continuing mismanagement has left it few other options. But what's the first thing United did after hiring Goldman Sachs as its adviser? It extended by four years the contract of Glenn Tilton, the carrier's chairman and chief executive. What's wrong with that? For starters, it means that Tilton gets rewarded for dreadful performance: At $850,000 a year in base salary, Tilton scored himself a 40 percent raise. It also means that Tilton now earns more than Gerard Arpey, chairman and CEO of American Airlines, which is much larger, hasn't dumped its pension plans and hasn't resorted to bankruptcy. Oh, and don't forget, it was Tilton who put United in bankruptcy in 2002, which wiped out the airline's shareholders. But when United emerged from Chapter 11 in February, he emerged as the new company's fourth-largest individual shareholder. All this while United's rank-and-file workers have had their equity holdings destroyed, their salaries slashed and their pensions decimated.

American and Southwest airlines have cozily, if crankily, dominated the Dallas market for a generation thanks to the unprecedented Wright Amendment. In essence, the federal law all but guaranteed that American Airlines controlled Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and virtually assured that no one seriously challenged Southwest at Dallas/Love Field. In the wee small hours of last Friday, as Congress was rushing to adjourn, the Texas delegation pushed through still another change to the Wright Amendment. This change will end the restrictions on flying at Love Field--but only eight years from now. Astonishingly, it also empowers the city of Dallas to seize private property at Love Field--a large, if currently unused, passenger terminal--and demolish it. That not only protects Southwest's hegemony at Love, of course, it virtually guarantees that any new airline wanting to serve Dallas will be forced to fly to DFW, American's strongest, most defensible hub. The changes approved by Congress last weekend were specifically brokered by American and Southwest. No other airline and no passenger was given input.

I know you think you know about this recalled-laptop-battery story, but you really don't. Laptop computer companies have been recalling defective, fire-prone batteries made by Sony for more than a month, but what you may not know is that the laptop firms keep widening their recalls. At least eight million Sony-manufactured batteries are now involved and even if you've checked before, you need to check again to see if your laptop's power pack is involved. Apple and Dell, the first two companies to recall Sony-made batteries, have each added machines to their respective recalls in recent days. And three more firms--Toshiba, Lenovo/IBM and Fujitsu--have initiated recalls in the last week. If you've got a Dell, click here for the current list of recalled machines. If you're toting an Apple laptop, click here for its current list. If you travel with a ThinkPad made by Lenovo or IBM, check your machine here. Owners of Fujitsu laptops should check their machine against this list. And Toshiba has two separate battery recalls. The larger, fire-related recall is detailed here. A smaller, unrelated battery recall list is located here.

Business travelers are used to waiting, so it shouldn't surprise you that a lot of the breaking news this week involves delays. Airbus, for example, says it will be still another year before it can deliver even one of its gargantuan Airbus A380 aircraft. After an initial series of delays, the first of the 600-seat planes was due to be in service later this year. Meanwhile, another week went by without the TSA moving ahead on its Registered Traveler program. At least ten and as may as 20 airports were supposed to be up and running before the end of the year. And Congress once again delayed a rule that would have required travelers to present a passport when entering the country by land or sea from other North American or Caribbean countries. The requirement now has been delayed until mid-2009. Travelers arriving by air will have to show a passport beginning next January, however.

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